The nervous system is made up of two components: the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), and the peripheral nervous system (nerves and ganglia outside of the central nervous system).
Nerves relay messages from the central nervous system to the rest of the body, helping it to move muscles, feel sensations, control bodily functions, and more. There are far more nerves in the feet than there are in any other part of the body. In fact, there are roughly 200,000 nerve endings in each foot. If any of these nerves become damaged, their ability to transmit these messages is affected (neuropathy) and there may be pain and other symptoms (neuropathic pain).
What Causes Nerve Damage and Pain in the Feet?
There are many potential causes or contributing factors leading to nerve damage and pain, with the most common being:
- Diabetic peripheral neuropathy or other underlying conditions
- Nerve entrapment (compression)
- Morton’s neuroma
- Infections (i.e., Lyme disease, shingles)
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Acute trauma from an injury
- Cysts and tumors
- Bone spurs
- Charcot Marie Tooth Disease
- Certain medications (i.e., chemotherapy drugs)
Pain and Other Symptoms of Nerve Damage
Neuropathy can cause a variety of symptoms. Neuropathic pain usually affects both feet and may occur suddenly, or come on gradually and get progressively worse. Symptoms of neuropathy may include:
- Pain that is sharp, burning or stabbing
- An electrical sensation
- Unpleasant tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation
- Extreme sensitivity
- Difficulty walking (i.e., foot drop: lifting the foot up)
- Decreased balance and coordination
- Increased risk of stumbling or falling (in severe cases)
Neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes. People with diabetes often experience problems in both the nerves and blood vessels of the feet, which may lead to chronic foot ulcers and infections.
How Is Nerve Pain Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned here, contact us right away. Your podiatrist will review your medical history and examine you, and may perform a variety of neurological examinations to check your reflexes, muscle strength, coordination, and ability to feel sensations. Additional tests may also be necessary including: blood tests, imaging tests, nerve function tests, nerve or skin biopsies, and diagnostic nerve injections/blocks.
Nerve Pain Treatment Options
Nerve pain treatment will vary, depending on its cause, the patient’s health and whether there are any underlying issues. Some of the more common types of treatment we offer include: