Prevalence of interdigital nerve enlargements in an asymptomatic population

Panagiotis D Symeonidis, Lukas D Iselin, Neil Simmons, Shaun Fowler, George Dracopoulos, Peter Stavrou
Foot & Ankle International 2012, 33 (7): 543-7

BACKGROUND: Morton's neuroma is a common primary diagnosis for referral to foot and ankle surgeons. On presentation, many patients have had an ultrasound reporting the presence of Morton's neuroma, which may not correlate with the clinical examination findings. The prevalence of such sonographic findings in the general population remains unknown.

METHODS: In this observational prospective study, patients with asymptomatic forefeet who were seen by two foot and ankle surgeons for unrelated mid- or hind foot pathology were examined clinically and sonographically for the presence of interdigital nerve thickening. Forty-eight volunteers participated in the study (96 feet). For the purpose of this study, asymptomatic thickenings greater than 5 mm in diameter were termed sonographic neuromas. Ultrasound examination was performed by two specialist musculoskeletal radiologists.

RESULTS: Fifty-four percent of the volunteers (26 of 48) had sonographic nerve thickening and in 17 cases (35.4%) enlarged nerves were found bilaterally. Differences for gender, original diagnosis or side of original pathology were not significant. Older subjects were more likely to have a sonographic neuroma (p = 0.018). Feet with a positive Mulder's click were more likely to have a sonographic neuroma (p = 0.015).

CONCLUSION: Ultrasound, even in highly skilled hands, has a high rate of incidental finding of an asymptomatic interdigital nerve enlargement, which can lead to a false diagnosis of a Morton's neuroma. Sonographic evidence of Morton's neuroma per se is unreliable unless it is correlated with an equivocal clinical examination. Clinical examination is still the gold standard for the diagnosis of a Morton's neuroma.

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