Feet and Nerves:
What Could Go Wrong
The human body is intricately designed with a number of basic systems (skeletal, circulatory, digestive, and so on). None of them functions on its own, but one could argue for the particular necessity of your nervous system. This is an extensive network of electrical impulse-carrying tissue that allows your brain to monitor and keep the other systems in good working order. Your feet are a long way from your brain and are susceptible to a number of nerve conditions that affect your ability to move around and enjoy life.
The nerves that are out in the periphery of your body gather sensations from your limbs and send them to your brain, which analyzes the data and sends back impulses to cause a certain response. It’s all done in milliseconds of time. Pretty amazing! That is, until something happens to the nerve tissue and it can’t function as it should.
The “something” that happens can range from an injury, to a brain condition, to a disease like diabetes. With the latter, poor circulation caused by plaque buildup from uncontrolled sugar levels can cause damage to the nerves (neuropathy) which can lead to symptoms like tingling, a burning sensation, or sharp, shooting pains. It can also result in numbness and lack of sensation.
As your nerves run throughout your body, they pass through many narrow places—between bones, tendons, muscles, etc. If these other tissues move out of position, swell up, or are injured, they can press on the nerve and cause some of the same problems as degeneration of the tissue does.
One common area that this happens is the tarsal tunnel. This is the area behind the ankle bone on the inside of your foot, where the posterior tibial nerve travels from your leg to your feet. You may be more familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome, in which repetitive motion causes the tissues to press on a nerve in your wrist, resulting in pain and numbness in your hands and fingers. This is basically the same concept, only it is your foot and toes that experience the symptoms.
Pressure from misaligned toes can cause the same sort of pressure on the nerves between them. The nerve can swell and become thick or scarred—a condition known as a neuroma or a nerve tumor.
This gait problem is characterized by difficulty lifting the front of your foot as you walk. It causes your toes to drag along the ground as you move your foot forward, or makes you lift your knee higher to prevent that from happening and develop an awkward gait. Causes vary from an inherited condition like muscular dystrophy, to degeneration from diseases like diabetes, to damage to a nerve during a surgery.
Fortunately, there are corrective devices to keep the front of the foot from dropping and physical therapy to improve function, as well as corrective surgical procedures.
The Role of Diet and Excessive Sugar Consumption
Researchers are beginning to tie nerve and circulation problems to inflammation that results from eating too much sugar. We recommend the book Sugar Crush for those who want a better understanding of this relationship. It is written by friend and colleague Dr. Richard Jacoby and details the problem and how you can tackle your eating habits to limit the damage.
When you feel those characteristic tingles, pins and needles, or shooting pains in your feet or ankles, come in right away and let us investigate them. Nerve problems are much more easily dealt with in the early stages, so call Parker Foot & Ankle in Houston, TX at (281) 497-2850 and set up an appointment sooner rather than later. We want to help you head off more serious issues and keep you mobile, so you can enjoy life more fully.
14441 Memorial Drive, Suite #16
Houston, TX 77079
Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00AM to 3:00PM