Nerves are crucial instruments, registering and sending information throughout the body. Those that serve on the “front lines” beneath our skin provide sensation when we interact with the world, helping us react accordingly to keep balanced and warning us of danger in the form of pain. If something is to damage these nerves, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, it can create a potentially dangerous situation.
On the Periphery
The peripheral nervous system consists of all the nerves and ganglia that exist outside of the brain and spinal cord (aka the central nervous system). Damage to this part of the system can happen through a variety of means, but the most common is through the effects of diabetes. According to the American Podiatric Medical Association about 60-70 percent of people who live with diabetes will eventually suffer from neuropathy. Other causes of damage can include trauma, alcoholism, arthritis, and heredity.
Symptoms of nerve damage in the feet include numb or tingling sensations. There may also be a shooting or stabbing pain felt through the foot, especially in the toes. These are signs of an underlying problem that should not be ignored.
The Dangers of Nerve Damage to the Feet
Anything that interferes with the way one senses the outside world can be hazardous, and this especially true if that interference is in the feet. It is possible for wounds and injuries to the feet to go unnoticed in patients with peripheral neuropathy. As they continue to use the affected foot, the injury can grow worse and become infected. In severe cases, these complications can lead to disability or amputation.
The sooner neuropathy is discovered and diagnosed, the more quickly the condition can begin to be managed. A physical exam and a look at one’s health history are parts of making an accurate diagnosis, and additional tests of the nerves and blood sugar might also be ordered.
Treatment for managing nerve damage may depend on the current severity and the cause, with goals of preventing further damage and finding relief from pain. Medications and substances such as capsaicin may help, as might electrical nerve stimulation and physical therapy. If the nerve damage is being caused by pressure against certain nerves, surgery may be needed to reduce the offending cause.
Perhaps one of the most essential elements of managing nerve damage in one’s feet, however, is being vigilant in checking for signs of damage. Since sensation in the feet may be compromised, it is up to sight to detect potential problems. A regular podiatric checkup can be part of a good plan, but a daily inspection performed by an individual or a loved one is even more important. Any abnormalities or signs of trouble should be reported right away to help prevent unwanted complications.
If tingling, numbness, or pain have been plaguing your feet, do not ignore them. Dr. Gregg Neibauer and the staff of Alpine Foot & Ankle Clinic can get to the root of the problem and provide the best in care and management regardless of the cause. Contact our Missoula, MT office at (406) 721-4007 to take the first steps toward peace of mind today.