Acupuncture for Morton’s neuroma – Everything You Should Know
Morton’s neuroma is a common condition which affects one of the interdigital nerves between the toes. This condition usually affects the nerve between the third and the fourth toes, causing pain in the ball of the foot between these toes. Morton’s neuroma can also develop in other nerves, but less often.
Morton’s neuroma is actually not a tumor. It is a thickening of tissues that surround the nerve, also known as perineural fibrosis.
Even though it is not a tumor, Morton’s neuroma is an unpleasant and painful condition that gets worse over time. That is why it is important to diagnose and treat this condition as soon as possible.
Conservative treatments have various success rate. If they don’t ease the symptoms, Morton’s neuroma surgery is suggested. Unfortunately, in some cases, even surgery is not effective.
Is there any other way to treat Morton’s neuroma, other than usual methods? In the last couple of years, many practitioners started recommending the acupuncture for Morton’s neuroma. Given how acupuncture is used for pain relief and Morton’s neuroma main symptom is pain, there is a logical explanation for use of this treatment.
What are the causes of Morton’s neuroma?
The exact cause of this condition is still not known. More recent theories suggest that it is a result of repetitive pressure, irritation, entrapment and injury.
Although the exact cause is still not known, there are several factors that undoubtedly contribute to development of Morton’s neuroma such as:
- High heels, tight and unfitting shoes
- Foot deformities (high arches, flat feet etc.)
- Certain injuries (fractures, dislocations)
- Certain sports and physical activities
Out of all these factors, high heels, tight and unfitting shoes are the most important contributing factor for Morton’s neuroma. High heels and other shoes with narrow toe boxes increase compression on the nerve and other structures between the heads of metatarsal bones.
What are the symptoms for Morton’s neuroma?
Morton’s neuroma main symptom is pain. However, the character of the pain widely varies between patients. It is usually a sharp or burning pain in the ball of the foot or at the base of your toes.
The pain can also radiate distally in your toes or proximally in the higher parts of the foot. Some patients also feel like they have a pebble or a stone in their shoes, underneath the ball of the foot/walk on a pebble.
The pain is often aggravated when weight bearing (standing, walking, running etc.) and wearing tight shoes and high heels. Patients usually feel some relief after they take off their shoes and massage the painful area.
Other symptoms like tingling sensation (paresthesia) and numbness can also be present. Paresthesia is usually present in the initial stages of this medical condition, gets worse over time and changes into pain.
In most cases there are no outward signs, like lump, because the nerve is usually not that thick.
Common treatments for Morton’s neuroma
Treatment for Morton’s neuroma depends on duration and severity of the condition. Generally, there are two types of treatment for Morton’s neuroma – conservative and surgical.
As with most foot injuries, initial treatment consists of one or more conservative methods. The aim of these methods is to relief pain and pressure of the affected nerve and corresponding area.
Conservative treatment can include one or more of the following methods:
- Rest, massage and ice
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Wide shoes with low heels and soft sole
- Avoid narrow, tight shoes and high heels
Change of footwear and use of orthotics are important for managing Morton’s neuroma. They will reduce pressure on the nerve by lifting and separating the bones, especially during weight bearing activities. Moreover, they will reduce the pain and swelling and accelerate the start of the healing process.
- Injection therapy
If other conservative methods fail, corticosteroid injections with local anesthetic may help, especially with shoe modification.
There are some cases where conservative treatment didn’t help. In these situations, surgical therapy should be considered. However, there is another treatment that you should try before surgery. Because it is a form of alternative medicine, many people forget about it. I’m talking about acupuncture for Morton’s neuroma.
What is acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese traditional medicine that exists for more than couple of thousand years. This form of Chinese traditional medicine includes a wide variety of procedures and techniques that involve stimulation of certain points of body on or in the skin.
Most common and thoroughly studied technique is stimulation by using thin, solid, metallic needles. These needles can be manipulated manually, with heat or electrical stimulation.
Acupuncture is based on a theory that there is life-energy, also known as ‘’qi’’ or ‘’chi’’ (pronounced as ‘’chee’’), that flows through our body in certain patterns (meridians). The illness develops when the energy flow is disrupted, blocked or unbalanced. It is believed that acupuncture can correct these flow imbalances at points on our body that are close to the skin.
There are more than 2000 acupuncture points that are connected by 20 meridians (12 primary and 8 extraordinary pathways). The 12 primary pathways connect specific organs, assembling a system of communication throughout our body.
Each acupuncture point has a different effect on the qi that passes through it. This is the reason why stimulation of different points is used to treat different body parts and organs.
How does acupuncture work?
There is no scientific proof that meridians and acupuncture points exist. Moreover, it is hard to prove their existence. However, several studies have shown that acupuncture can help with many medical conditions. One of the largest studies to date showed that acupuncture is effective for treating chronic pain and therefore it can be alternative option for treating painful medical conditions.
Researchers also noticed that most acupuncture points are near the nerves, muscles and connective tissue. That is why many experts used neuroscience to explain acupuncture and conduct studies that are based on these theories. Many studies actually showed that acupuncture can cause different biological responses.
One major theory suggests that there is a role of endogenous opioids like beta-endorphins in analgesic effect of acupuncture. Endogenous opioids are hormones produced in our bodies that have morphine-like effects. Their primary function is pain relief. The acupuncture needle stimulates the nerve which sends signals to the brain. Brain then releases hormones such as beta-endorphin, causing pain relief.
Other studies showed that stimulation in acupuncture may activate hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, resulting in various systemic changes such as changes in neurotransmitter and neurohormones secretion, blood flow regulation etc.
There is also evidence that there are changes in functions of immune system caused by acupuncture. Acupuncture decreases inflammation and therefore reduces pain.
Even with all these studies, it is still unclear which of these and other physiological changes are responsible for clinical effects of acupuncture.
Acupuncture for treating Morton’s neuroma
As I’ve previously mentioned, pain is the main symptom of Morton’s neuroma. This pain can be so unpleasant that it limits your everyday activities. Since one of the main advantages of acupuncture is pain relief, acupuncture can be used for treating Morton’s neuroma.
However, it is also believed the there are other ways how acupuncture manages this medical condition such as:
- Reducing the inflammation
Even though inflammation is a natural response to injury, it can also and delays and alters the healing process, especially if persists for longer period of time.
- Breaking down the scar tissue
The cause of pain and discomfort in Morton’s neuroma is thickening of tissues around the nerve (or scarring). Acupuncture may break down the scar tissue Formation and stimulate healing process.
- Restoring the strength and endurance of the joints and connective tissues
- Improving the overall and local blood flow
It is believed that this is done by neurotransmitters and mediators such as growth factors that are released after the stimulation of acupuncture points.
Acupuncture is often combined with Chinese herbal treatments and herbals soaks. They may help with pain and swelling.
Morton’s neuroma is an aggravating condition that is not so easy to treat. Even with all these conservative methods, the success rate is relatively low. Many patients don’t want surgery and try to find other methods that can help with their problem. Acupuncture is one of those alternative methods that may help.
Even tough acupuncture is still not fully understood by today's scientists, there are many evidence that support it. Just because it can’t be explained in detail, doesn’t mean that we should not use it. Especially if it helps.
In general, acupuncture is a safe method. The needles are so thin that insertion usually causes little to no discomfort and pain. You may feel a mild sensation when a needle reaches the correct depth.
Most side effects come from poor hygiene and inexperience of acupuncturist. That is why you should always look for certified acupuncturist that uses sterile needles.
Always consult with your doctor before trying any of the alternative methods. There are some medical conditions where acupuncture should not be used like varicose veins, cancer, pregnancy etc.
I hope that with this text you’ve learned more about the acupuncture and its effects on Morton’s neuroma, so when and if you try it, you’re going to be well informed. Maybe acupuncture is just the right treatment you’ve been waiting for.