Some sources claim that entrapment of the plantar nerve because of compression between the metatarsal heads, as originally proposed by Morton, is highly unlikely, because the plantar nerve is on the plantar side of the transverse metatarsal ligament and thus does not come in contact with the metatarsal heads. It is more likely that the transverse metatarsal ligament is the cause of the entrapment. Despite the name, the condition was first correctly described by a chiropodist named Durlacher, and although it is labeled a “neuroma”, many sources do not consider it a true tumor, but rather a perineural fibroma (fibrous tissue formation around nerve tissue).
A Morton?s Neuroma are a result of complex biomechanical changes that occur in your feet. There are a number of theories as to the exact cause of the scarring and thickening, but it basically boils down to overload of the tissue structure. The body lays down scar tissue to try to protect the overloaded structure. Tight-fitting shoes may exacerbate a Morton?s Neuroma. Shoes such as high heels and shoes with tight toe boxes (eg womens fashion shoes and cowboy boots) are particularly damaging to the toes. These shoes have a sloping foot bed and a narrow toe box. The slope causes the front of the foot to bear your weight. The angle of the toe box then squeezes your toes together. Footwear is not the only cause of a Morton?s Neuroma. Injuries to the foot can also be a factor in developing the condition by changing your foot biomechanics. Poor foot arch control leading to flat feet or foot overpronation does make you biomechanically susceptible to a neuroma.
Pain is usually increased by forefoot weight bearing activities (such as running), with narrow-fitting footwear, or with high heeled shoes. It is usually painful to firmly touch the affected region and, in chronic cases, pain and sometimes an audible click, may be heard when squeezing the foot and toes together with the hand. Often a localized area of swelling may be evident at the site of injury.
During the examination, your physician will feel for a palpable mass or a “click” between the bones. He or she will put pressure on the spaces between the toe bones to try to replicate the pain and look for calluses or evidence of stress fractures in the bones that might be the cause of the pain. Range of motion tests will rule out arthritis or joint inflammations. X-rays may be required to rule out a stress fracture or arthritis of the joints that join the toes to the foot.
Non Surgical Treatment
Relief of symptoms can often start by having a good pair of well fitting shoes fitted to your feet ensuring that the shoes don’t squeeze your foot together. Once footwear is addressed patients may require a small pre-metatarsal pad to be positioned onto the insole of the shoe to help lift and separate the bones in the forefoot to alleviate the pressure on the nerve. If the patients foot structure and mechanics is found to be a contributing cause, a custom made orthotic is usually the most convenient and effective way to manage the problem. Sometimes an injection of local anaesthetic and steroid is recommended to assist in settling acute symptoms.
If conservative treatment does not relieve your symptoms, your orthopaedic surgeon may discuss surgical treatment options with you. Surgery can resect a small portion of the nerve or release the tissue around the nerve, and generally involves a short recovery period.
Women, particularly those who wear tight shoes, are at greatest risk for Morton?s neuroma. The best way to prevent the condition is to wear shoes with wide toe boxes. Tight, pointed shoes squeeze bones, ligaments, muscles and nerves. High heels may worsen the problem by shifting your weight forward. Over time, this combination can cause the nerves to swell and become painful.