Posted by Jenn F. on Thursday, October 18th, 2012
Our feet can do so many amazing things. What’s really amazing, though, is the way our our feet figure out what to do. Sometimes it’s conscious, as in, “Whoa, there’s a puddle, I’m going draw my foot inward so I don’t get it wet.” At other times, our brains work without us even asking, as in, “Wow, that water is hot, I’m snapping my foot away from it.”
However, while this system of nerves that sends messages to our brain is wonderful, when one of those nerves is damaged, it’s a real problem. For example, if your peroneal nerve is damaged, suddenly that obedient clever foot may no longer be quite so helpful. It also may really hurt.
What is a peroneal nerve? It sounds like an expensive, yet useless, spa treatment. Au contraire! The peroneal nerve, part of the sciatic nerve, runs down the outside of your lower leg to your foot. It sends messages to your brain that allow you to move your toes and feet. It is responsible for movements like turning your feet in so your soles face upward, or pointing your foot upward.
Okay, so I guess the peroneal nerve is pretty important. How would I know if I had injured it? Oh, you’ll know. You may feel numbness or tingling on the outside of your leg or on the top of your foot. You’ll notice a feeling of weakness when you try to turn your foot inwards or point it upwards (which, I should point out, is part of walking). If the injury to the nerve is really severe, or if a minor injury is left untreated, you may experience foot drop, where your foot hangs loosely on your ankle. You will have little control over it, and you’ll walk with a slapping motion. To find out for certain if you have a peroneal nerve injury, though, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for an examination.
Uh oh, I never like to hear about any injury that makes walking difficult. What could possibly cause an injury to my peroneal nerve? It’s often part of another injury, such as damage to the knee or a fracture to the fibula (one of the lower leg bones). If there’s damage to the sciatic nerve, higher up in your lower back, that can also affect the peroneal nerve. It can also be a long-term, stress type injury from actions that compress the nerve, like crossing your legs too often or wearing tight clothing that presses on the nerve. You know those knee high/over the knee boots that you think make you look so sexy? Guess what–they can damage your peroneal nerve. So if you are wondering why your foot has been feeling weird since you started wearing them,well, question answered.
All right, then, what on earth do we do about peroneal nerve trouble? It really depends on the injury. If there was a fracture or dislocation that put pressure on the nerve, then once the main injury heals, the peroneal nerve injury should heal as well. If there is some damage to the nerve from another injury or directly to the nerve, then that will just need to heal. Your podiatrist may prescribe painkillers to help out until the nerve is better. If there is inflammation that is causing pressure on the nerve, you may be given a steroid injection or anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or aspirin. You may also need physical therapy to restore full mobility to your foot.
Surgery may be required if there is something putting pressure on the nerve or pinching it that can be moved or cleared away, such as tissues or tumors. If the nerve is seriously damaged, for example, if it has been severed, surgery is necessary to repair it.
You may not think much about your feet and how they work, but an injury to a foot can be as debilitating as a car blowing out its transmission. If you feel weakness, tingling, or numbness in your foot, get it checked out as soon as possible. If you have a peroneal nerve injury–or any injury–you’ll do yourself a favor by diagnosing it and beginning treatment early.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.