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).
Wearing shoes that are too tight can make the pain of Morton’s neuroma worse. This is because the toe bones are more likely to press on the affected nerve if your shoes are too tight. High-heeled shoes, particularly those over 5cm (2 inches), or shoes with a pointed or tight toe area, can also compress your toes and make the pain worse. This is why women tend to be affected by Morton’s neuroma more than men.
The primary symptoms include sharp, shooting pain, numbness or paresthesia in the forefoot and extending distally into the toes, typically in the region of the third and fourth toes. Symptoms are aggravated with narrow toe box shoes or those with high heels. There is usually a reduction of symptoms when walking barefoot or wearing shoes with an appropriately wide toe box. Symptoms are also aggravated with shoes that are tied too tight.
Patients with classic Morton?s neuroma symptoms will have pain with pressure at the base of the involved toes (either between the 2nd and 3rd toes, or between the 3rd and 4th toes). In addition, squeezing the front of the foot together can exacerbate symptoms. As well, they may have numbness on the sides of one toe and the adjacent toe as this corresponds with the distribution of the involved nerve.
Non Surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment involves a reduction in the inflammation and removing the impingement factor. Reduction in inflammation is achieved via rest, elevation, ice, and massage with anti-inflammatory gels. Removing foot wear and and/r wearing broad type footwear would also help. Injection therapy is useful in reducing symptoms but not very successful in providing long term relief. The only time when it is most appropriate is when the cause of the space occupying object is not a neuroma but an inflamed bursa. Injection would help to relieve symptoms, and often cortisone is not even necessary.
Patients are commonly offered surgery known as neurectomy, which involves removing the affected piece of nerve tissue. Postoperative scar tissue formation (known as stump neuroma) can occur in approximately 20%-30% of cases, causing a return of neuroma symptoms. Neurectomy can be performed using one of two general methods. Making the incision from the dorsal side (the top of the foot) is the more common method but requires cutting the deep transverse metatarsal ligament that connects the 3rd and 4th metatarsals in order to access the nerve beneath it. This results in exaggerated postoperative splaying of the 3rd and 4th digits (toes) due to the loss of the supporting ligamentous structure. This has aesthetic concerns for some patients and possible though unquantified long-term implications for foot structure and health. Alternatively, making the incision from the ventral side (the sole of the foot) allows more direct access to the affected nerve without cutting other structures. However, this approach requires a greater post-operative recovery time where the patient must avoid weight bearing on the affected foot because the ventral aspect of the foot is more highly enervated and impacted by pressure when standing. It also has an increased risk that scar tissue will form in a location that causes ongoing pain.