7 Symptoms of Peroneal Nerve Damage
It’s not that common to experience weakness or difficulty in walking. Maybe you have less feeling in your legs or feet. You might experience difficulties in walking.
You might start tripping over your feet. If your discomfort and symptoms continue, you’ll probably go to your primary care physician for a diagnosis and help.
After a lot of questions and a physical exam where you might be asked to walk down the hall, you might be told that you have peroneal nerve damage.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, peroneal nerve damage frequently causes a characteristic way of walking called foot drop. It’s caused because the patient can’t bend his foot up into the air at the ankle.
Just what is the peroneal nerve? And why is it so critical to the way that we walk? The peroneal nerve branches off the sciatic nerve. Its pathway is down the outside of your leg.
It provides feelings to the front of the legs and the sides of the legs. It is responsible for the flexing of your feet and toes.
What are the symptoms of damage to this nerve? According to Medline Plus, there are a number of symptoms that point toward peroneal nerve damage.
Patients might first notice feeling numb or experience tingling in one or both of their legs or the top of their feet.
It’s usually experienced on the outer part of either the thigh or calf. It may start subtly or it may appear suddenly. A sudden onset usually is because of an injury.
Weakness in the Feet or Ankles
Many people don’t even think about weakness in their foot or ankle. Under normal circumstances, our lower extremities respond automatically to a change in terrain or a slippery spot.
You might notice that you slip more easily on a wet step or icy sidewalk. You might just notice a weakness in your foot when you are putting on a pair of shoes.
Difficulties in Walking
Most of us don’t realize how complex the act of walking is. We learned when we were a year old and don’t think about it.
Yet walking is complex and is controlled by many sets of muscles and nerves. If the peroneal nerve is damaged, it may not be sending signals to the muscles in your feet.
Should your foot muscles not receive the signals to properly control your foot muscles, you will experience difficulty in walking. You might feel the need to use a cane.
Mayo Clinic explains foot drop, its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Foot drop is characterized by the inability to raise the front part of your foot. The front part of your foot might drag as you walk.
Some people compensate for this by lifting their upper leg higher when walking (called steppage gait). You might also experience balance problems when you have foot drop.
The foot drops because there isn’t much muscle movement near the ankle.
This YouTube video of an actual patient walking in his doctor’s office is compelling. Reading the comments section is informational too to help understand the variety of circumstances that may cause you to experience foot drop.
Because of the impact that foot drop has on your ability to walk and maintain your balance, you should see a doctor immediately.
A “slapping” gait is a different version of foot drop. Your foot will land flat on the floor or sidewalk and make a “slapping sound.” It’s caused by the same sort of issues as foot drop.
It all depends on which foot and ankle muscles aren’t be activated as to the exact symptoms you experience. Our bodies also compensate in different ways so the “slapping” gait is another variation of foot drop.
Toes that Drag When You Are Walking
Spine-Health.com provides helpful descriptions of the nuances that peroneal nerve damage may cause.
Toes that drag are another manifestation of foot drop. You might catch your toes on a slightly uneven pavement.
Other people feel that the balls of one foot are sliding/catching on the rug. Usually, it’s just one foot. You might notice that your shoes have more scuffs on that side too.
Some sufferers notice distinctly different wear patterns on the bottom of their shoes, especially their athletic shoes. A number of women stop wearing high heel shoes.
Loss of Leg Muscle Mass
If left untreated, Methodist Sports Medicine notes that patients may lose muscle mass in their foot or legs.
These muscles may atrophy because the peroneal nerve is not stimulating these muscles. Muscle atrophy would be noted on a physical exam.
What Causes Peroneal Nerve Damage?
As we’ve seen, there are a number of symptoms of peroneal nerve damage. There are also a number of causes-from simple behaviors like crossing your legs to serious diseases. It strikes both young and old and affects men and women equally.
Let’s look at the some of the common causes of peroneal nerve damage.
- Knee injury
- Fibula (bone of the lower leg) fracture
- Cast that is too tight
- Crossing your legs habitually
- Wearing high boots
- Sleep position that puts pressure on your knee
- Injury while having knee surgery
- Inadvertent knee injury while under anesthesia
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Multiple sclerosis
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cerebral palsy
- ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
Foot drop and its related symptoms are not a diagnosis, in and of itself. Foot drop is a symptom of peroneal nerve damage that can be caused by a variety of injuries and diseases.
Simple treatments include leg braces, orthotics, and physical therapy. An injection of cortisone may help reduce swelling from an injury that is putting pressure on the peroneal nerve.
Prescription medications such as gabapentin, carbamazepine or amitriptyline may relieve the burning sensation or numbness that sometimes accompanies nerve damage.
Injuries may require surgery and/or treatment of the underlying disease that has caused the damage.
Most people have never heard about peroneal nerve damage, but this little-known medical problem will grab your attention quickly.