Neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves in the body become damaged. This damage can occur due to a number of different causes, including physical injury, diseases, cancers, infections, diabetes, toxic substances, and disorders. Nerves from any part of the body, including the feet, can be damaged. When neuropathy affects the feet or other parts of the limbs, it is called peripheral neuropathy.
The symptoms of neuropathy vary greatly. Minor symptoms can include numbness, sensation loss, prickling, and tingling. More painful symptoms include throbbing, burning, freezing, and sharp pains. The most severe symptoms are muscle weakness, paralysis, problems with coordination, and falling.
Nerves pass through many narrow places in the body. When nerves in these areas are pressed on, pain and damage can arise due to this nerve compression. In the foot, an area called the tarsal tunnel is often the site of nerve compression. Misaligned toes can also cause pressure on the nerves between them, and nerves can swell up in response; this condition is known as a neuroma.
Podiatrists rely upon a full medical history and a neurological examination to diagnose peripheral neuropathy in the foot. More tests that may be used include nerve function tests to test nerve damage and blood tests to detect diabetes or vitamin deficiencies. Imaging tests, such as CT or MRI scans, may be used to look for abnormalities. Nerve or skin biopsies may also be taken.
Treatment depends upon the specific cause of neuropathy. If the neuropathy was caused by vitamin deficiency, diabetes, infection, or toxic substances, treating the condition can lead to the nerve healing and sensation returning to the area. If the nerve has died, however, sensation may never return to the area. Pain medication may be prescribed for less serious symptoms. Certain topical creams may work to bring back sensation. Electrical nerve stimulation may be used for a period of time to stimulate nerves, and physical therapy can strengthen muscles and improve movement. Surgery may be necessary if pressure on the nerve is causing the neuropathy.
If you are experiencing sensation loss, numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in your feet, you may be experiencing neuropathy. Be sure to talk to a podiatrist to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.