Foot & Ankle Nerve Injuries
Nerves are responsible for much of our brain’s ability to control our muscles. An injury to a foot and ankle nerve can cause the connected muscle to not function properly, or it can cause a person to lose feeling in the affected area.
Nerves are a fragile part of the human body that carry electrical impulses between the brain and rest of the body. Motor nerves carry the signals needed to make muscles move, whereas sensory nerves are what allows different areas of the body to respond to pain, pressure, and temperature.
A nerve is covered in a sheath of tissue, much in the same way electrical wires are sheathed in plastic for protection. Nerve fibers are called axons, which are separated into bundles within the nerve.
Foot & Ankle Nerve Injury Causes
Injuries that put pressure on or stretch the nerve can cause the conductive fibers within to break without disrupting the outer sheathing. Conversely, when a nerve is cut, both the axons and insulation are severed.
If the insulation remains intact, the nerve fibers farthest from the brain die. The end that is close to the brain remains alive, and over time may begin to heal.
If the nerve and insulation are both severed and the nerve is not repaired, the growing fibers can form a painful scar, called a neuroma.
When a nerve and its protective sheath is severed, surgery is required to rejoin them. The main goal in nerve surgery is to save the protective sheath so that new nerve fibers can grow and restore nerve function over time.
If nerve material has been destroyed and there is a space between ends of the nerve, a graft from another part of the body may be used to fix the injured nerve. By doing this however, there is a permanent loss of feeling in the area from which the graft is taken.
Nerves typically grow about an inch per month, and once the insulating cover is repaired, the nerve will usually begin to heal three or four weeks afterwards. A nerve injury in the ankle above the toes may take up to a year to return feeling to the toes. A feeling of pins and needles in the toes is common during recovery, and while it can be uncomfortable, it is a good sign.
Physical therapy during recovery will help the affected joints retain flexibility so they function properly once the nerves are healed. In the case of a sensory nerve injury, care should be taken to not burn or cut the affected area because there will be no feeling.
After the nerve heals, sensory re-education may be necessary to regain full control over the affected area. Your physician will recommend the appropriate treatment depending on your specific situation.
If you are suffering from foot and ankle pain or believe you have nerve damage, contact Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine online or at (904) 825-0540 to request an appointment with our board certified and fellowship trained foot and ankle physicians.