The human nervous system consists of two separate systems: the central nervous system (which controls the brain and spinal cord), and the peripheral nervous system-which resides outside the central nervous system.
Peripheral nerves relay messages from the brain to the rest of the body. When a peripheral nerve is damaged in some way, you may experience tingling, burning, numbness, cramps, leg and foot pain which is worse at night, toe curling, and muscle weakness. One type of damage to a peripheral nerve is a condition known as nerve compression, or nerve entrapment syndrome.
Nerve entrapment occurs when a peripheral nerve is constricted or pinched, often within the confines of a fibrous “tunnel” through which the nerve passes. Depending on the location of the nerve, this type of injury may be caused by chronic compression or by forces that stretch the nerve. Common forms of nerve entrapment affecting the feet and ankles are:
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome, occurring within the tarsal tunnel inside the ankle
- Baxter’s nerve entrapment, occurring in the inferior calcaneal nerve in the heel
- Peroneal nerve damage, occurring under the knee, which causes symptoms in the feet, toes, and ankles
Your podiatrist can diagnose nerve damage by conducting a neurological physical exam, which consists of various simple tests performed right in the office. Depending on their diagnosis, the condition may be treated with medications, icing techniques, custom orthotics, cortisone injections, physical therapy, or massage. If these more conservative approaches do not adequately relieve symptoms, your podiatrist may suggest decompressing the nerve with a surgical procedure to open the fibrous canal it resides in.
If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, make an appointment with your podiatrist as soon as possible to get relief and to avoid permanent damage from occurring.