Why does an injury actually hurt? In simple terms, it’s because nerves near the injured area transmit pain signals to the brain, triggering a response.
Well, what happens when the nerves themselves are injured, diseased, or otherwise damaged? The result could be many kinds of painful or uncomfortable sensations, including prickling, freezing, shocking, jabbing, or even hypersensitivity.
If nerves have been severely damaged, you may feel nothing at all, since they can no longer communicate with the brain. Without sensation, you may not be able to tell when you’ve been injured or cut until after significant damage has occurred.
Nerve Conditions in Feet
Some common examples of neurological diseases and disorders that affect the feet and ankles include:
This is a progressive condition in which the health of peripheral nerves slowly deteriorate over the course of time. Pain starts off mild and intermittent, but becomes more and more constant and severe—until numbness finally sets in.
Symptoms typically appear first in the feet and hands, but overtime can spread further up the limbs and affect other parts of your body. Motor nerves and autonomic nerves may also be damaged; if so, additional symptoms can include muscle weakness, poor coordination, digestion problems, and more.
Diabetes is by far the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy, but nutritional deficiencies, genetic disorders, alcohol abuse, and many other factors may contribute.
A neuroma is a small mass (or tumor) of thickened nerve tissue. The most common example is Morton’s neuroma. It develops in the ball of the foot between the bases of the toes—usually either the second and third, or third and fourth.
Walking on a foot with a neuroma may make you feel like you have a pebble in your shoe, or a fold in your sock that you can’t smooth out.
Foot neuromas are generally caused by repetitive pressure or irritation, or sometimes a direct injury to that area of the foot. Women who wear high heels or other tight, pointed-toe shoes are at higher risk of getting a neuroma, as are those with certain foot deformities (such as bunions or hammertoes).
Nerves often have to pass through bones and joints through very tight tunnels, along with blood vessels and other tissues—for example, the tarsal tunnel in the ankle.
Injuries, inflammation, or even just repetitive motions can sometimes collapse the space around the nerve and pinch it, causing pain. As with neuropathy, symptoms can range from tingling, burning, or electric shock-like sensations to eventual numbness.
Damage may become permanent if not addressed quickly.
Treatment for Nerve Pain
Nerves are delicate structures. Existing damage cannot always be reversed. So if you even suspect you might be suffering from neuropathy or any other related nerve condition, it’s extremely important to see us right away.
Treatments are often focused on managing symptoms and addressing the root causes of your nerve damage, to prevent the damage from progressing.
Common treatment and prevention options may include:
- Treat the cause. Manage underlying conditions, especially diabetes. High blood sugar is toxic for nerves.
- Nutrition. Eat a healthy diet, packed with nutrients that nerves require to function effectively. This includes B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, among others.
- Cold laser therapy. This advanced non-invasive treatment, provided at our office, not only eases painful symptoms but also helps accelerate the natural healing process and may improve nerve function.
- Physical therapy. Certain stretches and exercises can increase circulation to the nerve, and in some cases unblock areas where the nerves are being compressed.
- Surgical procedures. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove a neuroma, decompress a pinched nerve, or even remove a nerve that is causing pain.
- Pain relievers. In addition to both over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatories, other types of medications (including anti-seizure meds and anti-depressants) have shown some effectiveness in relieving nerve pain.
Obviously, the exact treatment protocols that we recommend will be based on your specific diagnosis, your personal needs, and other factors. We will always take as much time as needed with you to ensure you understand your options and can make an informed decision regarding your health care.