What is a Morton’s Neuroma?
Foot pain can be debilitating and stop even active people in their tracks. This morning we’ll review Morton’s neuroma and how we treat that problem at Regenexx. Let’s dig in.
What is a Morton’s Neuroma?
The term neuroma means that there is swelling in a nerve. A Morton’s neuroma is swelling in the interdigital nerve of the foot. These travel between the bones called the meta-tarsals. When one of these nerves gets irritated, that can cause the sensation of walking on a pebble or more severe radiating pain that can be made worse by wearing tight-fitting shoes.
What are the Treatments for Morton’s Neuroma?
The most common treatment for Morton’s neuroma is changing shoe type (i.e., avoiding high heels or shoes with a tight toe box), physical therapy, and/or activity restriction until the area is no longer painful. If that fails, then a steroid shot is often used, but the evidence that this is effective is of low quality, even though this is a common treatment (1). The other issue is that the results of steroid injections are commonly short-lived, and new research demonstrates that this type of therapy, in general, may lead to a higher likelihood of chronic pain (2). Alcohol injections to kill the nerve are also used. Finally, surgical excision of the interdigital nerve (neurectomy) is often performed if the problems persist. This procedure works 77% of the time, but 71% of patients still can’t wear the shoes they want even after the surgery (3,4). Complications are possible, including chronic pain due to nerve injury, infection, or foot numbness.
Is There a Different Treatment?
As already reviewed, blocking inflammation via a steroid shot is a common treatment for Morton’s Neuroma. However, recent research has demonstrated that this may lead to a higher likelihood of chronic pain due to the steroid medication killing off white blood cells that are needed to resolve inflammation and heal the area. Hence, what if the injection went the other way? Meaning instead of killing off local cells with a powerful anti-inflammatory, the goal was to improve the health of the nerve and regrow critical new blood vessels to the damaged nerve? That’s the goal of precise platelet-based injections around the injured nerve.
Ultrasound-guided hydrodissection is when the doctor uses sophisticated ultrasound imaging to precisely place a medication around the injured nerve. Research has shown this to be a cost-effective treatment for Mortons Neuroma (5). However, rather than injecting steroids, Regenexx clinics use the patient’s platelet-derived growth factors to help the nerve heal. These injections contain nerve growth factor and VEGF, a cytokine that can help build new blood vessels (14-18). While research on things like platelet-rich plasma on the interdigital nerve is still in the early stages, this treatment has been shown to be effective in multiple randomized controlled trials treating carpal tunnel syndrome, a similar condition in the wrist (6-13).
What does ultrasound-guided hydrodissection look like from the doctor’s perspective? Above is an example of what this procedure looks like around the median nerve.Join us for a free Regenexx webinar.
A Runner’s Morton’s Neuroma Journey
Regenexx is a national provider network that uses interventional orthobiologics (aka interventional orthopedics). What does that mean? See my video below:
This patient treatment journey comes to us from Dr. Papas in Tampa. His patient was a 31 yo female long-distance runner who presented with wierd sensations in the 3rd and 4th toes. Initially, she noticed it when she would run more than 5 miles, so she saw a Podiatrist who diagnosed her with a Morton’s neuroma and treated her with steroid and Alcohol injections. These would help very briefly, and then she would return for more and more injections, eventually undergoing more than 20 procedures. Unfortunately, her condition worsened the more injections she received. By the time she presented to Dr. Papas, she couldn’t walk barefoot without severe pain. When he performed a hand-on exam, she had obvious atrophy of the muscles in the feet, likely due to the injections that she had received. Dr. Papas treated her with 3 rounds of ultrasound-guided platelet lysate injections around the Morton’s neuroma and physical therapy. After each round, she gradually increased her running tolerance, and the atrophy resolved completely.
The patient is now back to running and setting personal records. Recently, she ran all of the races at the Gasparilla fest, including the 5K, 8K, 15K, and Half Marathon – some of these were run back to back. She is back to being pain-free with long-distance running.
The upshot? Morton’s neuroma is a problem that can disable weekend warriors. Getting steroid or alcohol injected or surgery may not be the best option. Instead, our network is focused on procedures to help the nerve heal instead of damaging it or the surrounding tissues.
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