What really pushed me over the edge when it came to Morton’s Neuroma (MN) was watching Steven Tyler on OWN. During his interview with Oprah (okay, I saw it with my wife – her idea!), I realized one, that he’s an awesome dude, but two, he is mislead in thinking his problem is just a MN… he showed one of his “dogs” right there on TV, and a MN, even if he has one, is the least of his worries!
First of all, a MN is not a neuroma at all… and, Morton did not describe Morton’s neuroma! What tha…? Technically speaking, it is perineural fibrosis, sort of a misplaced overgrown protective “scar” tissue surrounding and compressing an otherwise normal nerve. And this choking effect of the common digital nerve is what produces the pain. Durlacher described “Morton’s” neuroma, but I guess Morton’s neuroma sounded better. I’m certain it is easier to spell.
So, what does MN feel like? It is bottom-of-the-foot, or plantar, pain that usually comes on very slowly — months to years — and never is a result of injury or trauma. At first the pain is vague, and difficult to describe or localize, but in time, over a period of months to years, it will localize and the ability to describe the pain sharpens. You may or may not have numbness or shooting pains out into the associated toes.
Common and characteristic complaints are increased pain with tighter shoes, the urge to take ones shoe off and rub the foot, and/or the feeling that there is a fold in the sock, when there isn’t. It’s a nerve thing. The exam is defined by re-creation of the pain with palpation in the web space and possibly eliciting a pain reproducing Mulder’s click.
When I see a patient and I suspect a MN, it becomes a diagnosis of exclusion, especially if it is in the second web space. This means that all other prospects/suspects are ruled out first, usually by history and exam. BTW, a Morton’s neuroma may “feel” like swelling on the bottom of your foot, but that’s a sense that many get from numbness anywhere. However, actual, real swelling never accompanies MN. Never. The only other diagnostic test available is a diagnostic injection with or without cortisone.
Treatments range from living with it, to surgery. Sorry, but my focus here is not for treatment, but I will make a few brief comments below.
Here is the point. There are three things you don’t know about MN that you might need to know. This is not science and is the culmination of 26 years of experience and observation.
1. An MRI is not a valid diagnostic test for MN!
Let me make this clear, an MRI is in no way able to aide in the diagnosis of a MN. If your doctor suspects a MN and suggests an MRI to “confirm” the diagnosis, or you already have an MRI “positive” for a MN and surgery is suggested based on this info, RUN. In deference to this, if your doc is struggling with the diagnosis of a possible MN and suggests an MRI to help better define other potential problems, then an MRI is probably okay. This gets back to the rule out/diagnosis of exclusion thing. Ultrasound is questionable as well. Here’s the thing, no matter what diagnostic test we use, it is our responsibility to connect the dots. It is called clinical correlation.
2. There is no such thing as “recurrence” of a MN after a surgical excision.
I have always wanted to say that because it’s so controversial and offbeat, but true. Man-o-shevitz, it feels so good to get that off my chest. So what is a “recurrence?” This is simply a case of your pre-op pain returning after surgical excision, or code for: your neuroma grew back. Somehow use of the word “recurrence” makes this failure seem more like magic or bad luck or maybe the patient’s fault. On the other hand, it also implies this is not the doctor’s fault.
The truth is, according to the AO, return of your pain post-op falls into two categories. Misdiagnosis and failure to actually remove a bonafide MN. Accurate diagnosis of a MN by a specialist can be difficult and is at best 95% accurate. That means that when I take you to the operating room, I will be wrong 5% of the time about your diagnosis. Sorry, but that is the best I can do, and I make sure every one of my patients know that. Incomplete removal or no removal at all (air ball, air ball, etc.) is the reason for “recurrence” when there actually is a MN. When the nerve is cut, what results is an true amputation neuroma and if it is left in the WB area you will continue to have pain just like or worse than you had prior to surgery. And if there is an air ball, well, that speaks for itself. When it comes to surgery, get a solid diagnosis and pick an experienced fellowship trained surgeon.
3. Calf stretching might be the answer to MN.
I have found through serendipity that consistent, daily, dedicated calf stretching relieves the pain from MN in about 90-95% of cases. This is anecdotal for sure, but this surprise in my practice has saved a lot of surgeries. While I have theories as to why this might be true, let’s just say that it is intriguing and would really be awesome if it bears out. Who knows, maybe some smart guy will come along and prove me wrong…or right.