The diagnosis of Neuromas is made by a physical exam and a thorough history of the patient’s complaint. Conditions that mimic the pain associated with Neuromas are stress fracture of the metatarsals, inflammation of the tendons in the bottom of the toes, arthritis of the joint between the metatarsal bone and the toe, or nerve compression or nerve damage further up on the foot, ankle, knee, hip, or back. X-rays are generally taken to rule out a possible stress fracture or arthritis. Because nerve tissue is not seen on an x-ray, the x-ray will not show the neuroma. A skilled foot specialist will be able to actually feel the neuroma on his exam of the foot. Special studies such as MRI and CT Scan have little value in the diagnosis of a neuroma. However, ultra sound testing has been shown to be very effective in diagnosing neuromas. Neurological testing such as neuro sensory motor testing is also helpful in diagnosing a neuroma. If the doctor on his exam cannot feel the neuroma, and if the patient’s symptoms are not what is commonly seen, then nerve compression at another level should be suspected. In this instance, one area to be examined is the ankle.
Just below the ankle bone on the inside of the ankle, a large nerve passes into the foot. At this level, the nerve can become inflamed. This condition is called Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. Generally, there is not pain at this site of the inflamed nerve at the inside of the ankle. Pain may instead be experienced in the bottom of the foot or in the toes. This can be a difficult diagnosis to make in certain circumstances. Neuromas, however, occur more commonly than Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.
Treatment for the neuroma consists of cortisone injections, orthotics, chemical destruction of the nerve, or surgery. Cortisone injections are generally used as an initial form of treatment. Cortisone is useful when injected around the nerve, because it can shrink the swelling of the nerve. This relieves the pressure on the nerve. Up to three cortisone injections can be given over a twelve-month period. Cortisone may provide relief for many months, but is often not a cure for the condition. The abnormal movements of the metatarsal bones continue to aggravate the condition over a period of time.
To address the abnormal movement of the metatarsal bones, a functional foot orthotic can be used. These devices are custom-made inserts for the shoes that correct abnormal function of the foot. The combination treatment of cortisone injections and orthotics can be a very successful form of treatment. If, however, there is significant damage to the nerve, then failure to this treatment can occur. When there is permanent nerve damage, the patient is left with three choices: live with the pain, chemical destruction of the nerve, or surgical removal of the nerve.