Morton's neuroma is a common foot problem that can cause a significant amount of pain. If you're suffering from foot pain in the ball of the foot or between the toes, you may have this condition. Learn more about what Morton's neuroma is and how you can treat it.
What is a Neuroma of the Foot?
Morton's neuroma, also known as intermetatarsal neuroma, is a condition that involves a thickening of the tissues around the nerves between the metatarsal bones in the foot. This condition typically affects the nerves between the third and fourth toes, though it can also happen between the second and third toes.
As the nerve tissue thickens, it can cause the nerves to become compressed and irritated. Morton's neuroma can occur with or without symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Morton's Neuroma
Patients with Morton's neuroma typically experience discomfort such as:
- A burning sensation in the ball of the foot may radiate toward the toes.
- Tingling and numbness in the toes.
- An uncomfortable feeling as though there's a pebble in your shoe or your sock is bunched up.
- Swelling between the toes.
- Pain that worsens in high-heeled shoes or when standing on the balls of the feet.
There are often no outward signs of Morton's neuroma. Though you might experience pain and even difficulty walking, you won't necessarily see a lump, inflammation, or any other visible sign of the condition.
Surprisingly, many people have Morton's neuroma with no symptoms at all. One study found that 33% of the participants had Morton's neuroma with no clinical evidence of the condition.
What Causes Morton's Neuroma in Feet?
Poorly fitted footwear often causes Morton's neuroma. Shoes with a tight toe or heels over two inches tall may compress and irritate the nerves in the feet. As a result, the nerves begin to thicken, causing an increasing amount of pain. Sports like ballet and skiing that require tight shoes may increase your chances of developing this condition.
Morton's neuroma may also develop due to an abnormal gait that puts uneven pressure on the foot. Sports, like running or tennis, increase pressure on the ball of the foot and may also contribute to the development of Morton's neuroma.
You're more likely to develop Morton's neuroma if you have other foot conditions such as:
- Flat feet.
- High arches.
- Unusually positioned toes.
- Other foot injuries.
How Common is Morton's Neuroma?
Morton's neuroma is a fairly common condition. It impacts roughly 30 to 33% of the population. Morton's neuroma is 8 to 10 times more likely in women than in men, most likely due to the restrictive and high-heeled shoes that women often wear.
How to Diagnose Morton's Neuroma
You must see a podiatric healthcare provider for a conclusive diagnosis of Morton's neuroma. You should never ignore foot pain that lasts for more than a few days. In order to diagnose your condition, your doctor will examine your feet to look for a mass between the toes. They may also put pressure between the toes to determine the exact location of the pain. Applying pressure to the affected nerves can cause burning, aching, or shooting pains.
Many physicians will diagnose Morton's neuroma based solely on your symptoms and a physical examination. Your doctor may also order additional tests such as:
- An MRI or ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis of Morton's neuroma.
- An X-ray to rule out other conditions, such as arthritis or a stress fracture.
- An electromyography procedure to rule out nerve conditions that present similarly to Morton's neuroma.
How to Treat a Neuroma in the Foot
There are several possible treatments for a foot neuroma. Your doctor can assess your condition and determine the appropriate option for your individual case. You will typically begin with a conservative approach to relieve your symptoms. This might include:
Orthotics & Exercise
- Shoe inserts to relieve pressure on the nerve.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications or pain killers.
- Stretching exercises for the ligaments and tendons.
- Strengthening exercises for the ankles and toes.
- Massage for the ball of the foot to release tension.
If these treatments don't relieve the pain, your doctor may recommend one of the following treatment options.
Many different injections have proven themselves effective for treating Morton's neuroma. Your doctor may suggest:
- Steroid injections to reduce inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory drug injections to reduce inflammation.
- Alcohol sclerosing injections to relieve nerve pain.
- A local anesthetic injection to relieve pain by numbing the nerve.
If other treatments prove ineffective, your doctor may recommend surgery for Morton's neuroma. There are several options for surgical treatments, including:
- A neurectomy removes some of the nerve tissue.
- Decompression surgery involves cutting ligaments and other structures to release pressure on the nerve.
The Outlook for Morton's Neuroma
The outlook for Morton's neuroma is very good. A combination of wearing roomier footwear with custom orthotics, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and having cortisone injections has proven effective for 80% of individuals. When surgery is used for Morton's neuroma, it provides symptom relief for 75% to 85% of patients.
How to Prevent Morton's Neuroma
You can take certain actions to help prevent Morton's neuroma. Wearing the right shoes will go a long way toward protecting your feet from this and other painful issues—select shoes with a wide toe box and low heel. During athletic activities, make sure your shoes have ample support for the ball of the foot. Maintaining a healthy weight will also help prevent issues with Morton's neuroma, as excess pounds put more pressure on the feet.
If you're suffering from foot pain, we can help. Contact Dr. Schoene for an expert diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. Dr. Schoene is a sports medicine specialist with experience helping many types of athletes maintain healthy, pain-free feet. You should never let foot pain go untreated. Contact us to schedule an appointment by phone or online.