Morton’s Neuroma – Intermetatarsal Neuropathy
There is a painful condition of the forefoot that feels like an electrical shock.
This feeling of walking with a stone under the ball of your foot will quickly limit your activity level. There could be many reasons that pain to the ball of the foot could happen. Your doctor will need to perform a thorough examination and only your doctor can diagnose your condition. This section explains the mechanical reason for nerve disease between the metatarsal heads. Let’s explore why this is such a painful issue and why historic treatments don’t make a lot of sense.
What is a Morton’s Neuroma?
There is a nerve located between the heads of the 3rd and 4th metatarsal bones that develops a nerve callus. There is a swelling of the nerve that gets bigger and bigger. This condition is referred to as a Morton’s neuroma after Dr. Thomas George Morton who published an article in 1876 describing this condition. It was previously published by Filippo Civinini in 1835 but news back in those days did not spread as far and wide as it does now.
This is a specific condition that is found between the heads of the metatarsal bones of the foot.
The most common location is the 4th interspace between the 3rd and 4th toes but they are commonly found in other intermetatarsal spaces as well. The nerve within this space develops swelling of specialized nerve tissue. Neuroma means “nerve tumor” but that is somewhat of a mischaracterization of what is actually happening. It is more of a nerve callus, a thickening of tissue as a result of mechanical trauma. Just like when you get a callus on your toe. It occurs due to excessive, repeated micro-trauma. After decades of millions and millions of steps, this nerve callus forms as a protective mechanism. Just like that callus on the toe, this nerve callus will eventually reach a point when it gets very painful. The big difference between a callus on your skin and one on the nerve inside your foot is that the callus on your toe can get reduced with a pumice stone. The poor nerve within your foot does not have that luxury. Meanwhile, every step is a reminder that the nerve callus is there.
How do we know this is the case? When surgeons remove the nerve callus from someone’s foot, they send it for analysis. The typical findings are:
- Fibrosis around and within the nerve
- Schwann cell and fibroblast proliferation
- Loss of myelinated nerve fibers
What that means is there is scar tissue surrounding and inside the nerve.
Scar tissue develops after trauma. The Schwann cell and fibroblast proliferation are signs that the nerve is trying to repair itself from the trauma but at the same time there is also more scar tissue thickening. Finally, the loss of myelin means that the important nerve fibers are no longer connected. It’s like the wiring to the light switch has worn away – that means loss of nerve function.
Why do people get nerve-calluses?
The bones of the foot are divided into 2 columns, the inner/medial and outer/lateral. The inner column of bones is allowed to have a slight amount of motion. The outer column of bones should have little to no motion. That slight amount of motion between the inner and outer columns allows the foot to handle an uneven ground surface. Ankle bone instability, the partial dislocation of the ankle bone in the heel bones leads to excessive inner column motion. So, what does all of this have to do with forming a nerve callus? Everything. Where do we see the most common location of the nerve callus? Between the 3rd and 4th metatarsal bone. This is between the inner and outer columns of foot bones.
Ankle bone instability pushes the inner column of foot bones away from the outer column of bones. The excessive motion, even a slight amount, is going to put a strain on the ligaments between the heads/necks of the 3rd and 4th metatarsal bone. That strain is the micro-trauma that is inflicted on the nerve. That strain happens with every step taken and constantly when standing. That’s thousands of times per day.
When do people start developing pain from the nerve callus? It is usually when they are over 40 years old. At that point in life, they have taken over 72 million steps. That’s 72 million times the nerve had micro-trauma. Imagine tapping your finger on the table 72 million times. Eventually, you will develop a callus and then an ulcer due to the repeated trauma.
Why is intermetatarsal neuropathy a bad thing?
What is the best form of treatment?
The best way to treat a nerve that is being compressed and strangulated is to cut the noose that causing the damage. It is better to cut that tissue than to cut out the nerve. The only issue with cutting the noose is that it can grow back, and the ankle bone instability is still present. So, it would make sense to have a combination of procedures. First, stabilize the ankle bone with HyProCure to prevent the excessive metatarsal motion, then cut the noose.