Nerve pain in the feet and ankles can have debilitating consequences on someone’s daily life.
Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists offers top medical expertise and state-of-the-art technology in the field of nerve pain treatment. We have helped multitudes of patients manage or eliminate their nerve pain, and we can help you too.
Is There a Physical Reason for My Pain?
Pain is the body’s normal response to a harmful stimulus. Its purpose is trigger behaviors and reactions that limit further damage to the body.
It can be extremely frustrating when pain continues despite one’s best efforts to address it. You can take your hand off a hot stove, but you can’t always reach or affect the cause of nerve pain yourself. Professional intervention is often needed to treat the problem.
What Causes Nerve Pain in Feet and Ankles?
Pain in the feet, ankles, or lower legs may be from painful neuromas. These tend to develop following trauma and affects up to 60 percent of patients with a nerve injury.
A neuroma is a localized growth or tumor of nerve tissue. They are firm, bulbous, often tender to the touch, and may have significant associated pain. Numbness and weakness may also be factors.
Additionally, about 20 percent of patients develop chronic pain after any surgery.
These sources of pain fall into three categories: nerve compression or tethering (restriction), nerve injury, and musculoskeletal injury/inflammation.
The body’s response to nerve injury depends on the type and degree of the damage, small and large environmental influences, the patient’s general physiological health and other factors.
When a nerve in the foot, ankle, or leg is injured, the stump will always attempt to regenerate toward its intended target. If this process is disorganized or incomplete, it may result in the formation of a painful neuroma.
In addition to pain, another symptom of peripheral nerve damage is foot drop.
The Common Peroneal Nerve is about the thickness of a pen. It runs behind the knee, around the outside of the knee, and enters the muscles of the outside of the leg. This nerve can become compressed between the covering of the muscles (the fascia) and the underlying bone (the fibula), in what is known as the fibular tunnel.
If your leg is stretched, your ankle twisted, or knee injured, the Common Peroneal Nerve is more likely to become compressed. The never often recovers function on its own within 3 months following an injury. When it doesn’t, the front of the foot may begin to drag on the ground as you walk. This is known as foot drop (or sometimes drop foot).
Patients with foot drop should wear a splint called an AFO device. This holds the foot in position and prevents the Achilles tendon from contracting, allowing the nerve more opportunity to recover. If symptoms persist past 3 months, the injury may be serious and the nerve may need to be decompressed via a procedure called a neuroplasty.
“Neuropathy” is a catch-all term referring to systemic nerve damage that can be caused by a variety of influences including trauma, inherited disorders, side effects of medications, nutritional deficiencies, and many others. The peripheral nerves are those which connected the spinal cord to organs, muscles, and skin (so, essentially, all the nerves in your feet and ankles).
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include burning, tingling pain or numbness. Depending on the source of peripheral neuropathy, treatment may be medicinal, therapeutic, or even surgical in nature.
How Nerve Damage is Diagnosed and Treated
The goal of nerve pain treatment is identify and stop the source of the pain generation, while keeping in mind that normal perception of pain is still very important to our patients’ lives.
Over the past decade, technology, materials, and microsurgical techniques have arrived that not only allow a surgeon to remove and reconstruct neuromas, but also help restore and rebuild normal nerve pathways.
The doctors at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists believe that a team approach is best for managing and treating all the risk factors that can be involved with such a condition. This team consists of pain medicine doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, case managers, surgeons, physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors, and physical and occupational therapists.
The role of the surgeon within the pain team is to identify the sources of pain in the foot, ankle, and leg. Once located, these sources of pain are then eliminated or minimized. This requires a thorough examination of all potential factors influencing the pain, including treatable conditions of the peripheral nerves, bones, joints, muscles, and tendons.
For example, there are more than 25 common points of nerve compression situated away from the nerve roots. An injury or compression at one point can cause changes and swelling elsewhere along the course of the nerve, making compression more likely at additional points. This is known as the double or multiple crush phenomenon.
When diagnosing a condition, we will likely review your medical history and conduct a comprehensive neurological examination. This may include:
- Nerve function tests, in which reflexes, electrical nerve activity, and the ability of the nerves to sense stimuli may be recorded.
- Blood tests to determine whether certain factors are at cause for nerve damage.
- Imaging tests such as CT and MRI scans to detect tumors and other abnormalities.
- Removing a small portion of a nerve to test and inspect for abnormalities.
Trust the Experts at Austin Foot and Ankle
Nerve pain in the feet and ankles can negatively affect your quality of life, but our experts have the experience and tools to help. Whether treatments include peripheral nerve surgery, advanced treatments such as Neurogenx, or more conservative measures, we will be sure to fully discuss all your options to ensure you can travel down the path of treatment in full confidence.
If you believe you may have a painful neuroma, or have had chronic pain following surgery, contact us at (512) 328-8900 to schedule an appointment at either of our two Austin locations. You may also use our online contact form to reach out to us electronically.
If you would like further information on nerve conditions, please take a moment to request your free copy of A Guide to Understanding Foot and Ankle Pain.