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Diagnosing Mortons Neuroma

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plantar neuromaThe nerves located on the bottom of the foot between the metatarsal heads (the bone of the toe closest to the foot) supply feeling, or sensation, to the toes. One of these nerves may become irritated by the ligament located above it, causing it to become thickened and painful. Generally this problem occurs most often between the third and fourth toes, but it can occur between the second and third toes as well. It is uncommon for a neuroma to be located between the first and second or fourth and fifth metatarsals. Rarely is there more than one neuroma in a foot.

Causes

Morton's Neuroma is a caused by pressure, abnormal function/motion or an imbalance in the structure of the foot such as flat feet, that causes an abnormal pressure on the structures and the nerves in the ball of the foot. It most commonly affects the nerve that goes to the 2nd 3rd or 4th toes. The squeezing of the nerve from abnormal motion leads to a protective thickening of the sheath that protects the nerve. Symptoms of Morton's Neuroma often occur during or after activities that cause a sidewards squeezing of the ball of the foot or from pressure such as walking, standing, or playing sport. Since squeezing is a common cause of the condition, shoes such as pointed toes or high heels can often lead to a neuroma. Shoes that are constricting, even tight sneakers, can pinch the nerve between the toes, causing inflammation and pain.

Symptoms

It usually occurs in between the 3rd and 4th toes (about 65% of cases) as is pictured to the right. It is less commonly found in the 2nd webspace, and rarely at all in the 1st or 4th webspaces. You can also experience pins and needles and/or numbness as a result of the nerve being affected. The condition tends to occur predominantly in middle aged females.

Diagnosis

The physician will make the diagnosis of Morton's neuroma based upon the patient's symptoms as described above in an interview, or history, and a physical examination. The physical examination will reveal exceptional tenderness in the involved interspace when the nerve area is pressed on the bottom of the foot. As the interspace is palpated, and pressure is applied from the top to the bottom of the foot, a click can sometimes be felt which reproduces the patient's pain. This is known as a Mulder's sign. Because of inconsistent results, imaging studies such as MRI or ultrasound scanning are not useful diagnostic tools for Morton's neuroma. Thus the physician must rely exclusively on the patient's history and physical examination in order to make a diagnosis.

Non Surgical Treatment

Most patients' symptoms subside when they change footwear to a wide soft shoe with a metatarsal support inside to relieve the pressure on the involved area. If this treatment fails, a cortisone injection into the nerve is occasionally helpful.Morton neuroma

Surgical Treatment

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.

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