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Should I Get Surgery For My Foot Neuropathy?

Woman holding her foot in pain suffering from peripheral foot neuropathy.

8 signs you should talk to your doctor about your damaged or pinched foot nerves

About 1 in 5 people struggle with foot pain. And it’s not only among the elderly. One study found that 10% of people under the age of 45 deal with foot pain as well.1

It’s easy to try to let foot pain “resolve itself.” After all, your life is full of non-stop tasks that involve your feet, like standing all day or wearing uncomfortable shoes.

But what happens when your foot pain keeps coming back? Or isn’t going away at all?

Constant foot pain is an alarm bell for significant health problems.

  • It increases your risk for falls.
  • It can be correlated with a risk of chronic wounds and infections.
  • It may be a sign of a disease process.
  • It makes your daily tasks, like driving and walking, much harder.

Instead of ignoring your foot pain, see if you have any of the following warning signs.2 Many might seem odd or unrelated, which is why they can be easily overlooked.

What are some signs you might need foot surgery for your nerves?

  1. You have diabetes. Foot pain from neuropathy is a classic sign that your diabetes has progressed. A whopping 90% of diabetics have foot neuropathy.3 When you have high blood sugars for a long time, your blood vessels’ walls become weaker. They’re not able to efficiently deliver oxygen to your cells. Researchers suspect that neuropathy comes from undernourished nerves.  
  1. Your feet have a burning or tingling sensation. This can be constant or intermittent. It can also be on a single part of your foot or the entire leg. Oftentimes, it’ll feel worse the more years you have chronic foot pain. Many people report constant pain that fluctuates in severity throughout the day. People with nerve-related foot pain report a sensation of their limb having “fallen asleep” or report a sharp needle-like pain in the foot.
  1. You have less sensation, even though you have more pain. Because nerve pain in the feet can be so constant and intense, many people don’t recognize the numbness that can accompany it. Have you ever discovered that you didn’t feel something you stepped on, like hot asphalt or a nail? It may be because foot nerve damage has dulled your sensation.
  1. Your feet are very sensitive. It can be to heat and cold, or to general sensations that shouldn’t normally feel painful. For example, wearing shoes that lace up may elicit lots of pain. This symptom is often a paradox: it’s common to have sensitivity AND numbness.
  1. You feel like there’s a rock in your shoe, even if there isn’t. That sensation may be a part of your body that’s acting like a rock. A callus on the bottom of the foot, inflammation inside your foot, and disfigured bones are common offenders.
  1. You struggle to do things that require feeling your foot. This is usually a later stage, but many people only realize their diminished foot sensation when they have trouble with their regular tasks. Feeling the gas pedal to drive or walking on the uneven ground become more difficult. Unfortunately, many people still try to accommodate it without help. Some people will drive by focusing on the part of the leg they can feel, or shuffle their feet to feel less unbalanced.
  1. You struggle with your balance. Chronic foot pain can sabotage your balance. Have you frequently found yourself swaying while standing, stumbling often, or shuffling your feet? If you have foot pain as well, they may be correlated.
  1. Your pain started after surgery. Post-surgery pain usually resolves itself. However, if you’re having numbness and pain that worsened after surgery, and didn’t resolve itself, you may need intervention. A variety of issues, such as scar tissue pressing the nerve, can cause this. Because the nerves in your feet start farther up in your body, the offending surgery doesn’t necessarily have to be on the foot. A hip, spine, or leg surgery can affect the feet’ nerves.

Why does neuropathy in the feet hurt so much?

Usually, it’s because the nerve is pinched or stretched.4 

So what can cause this?

  • An abnormal bone structure is compressing the nerve. A bone may be out of place, like with a bunion, where the joints connecting the bones are deformed. A bone structure can be deformed, like with bone spurs, flat feet (fallen arches), and “rocker foot” (Charcot foot deformity).  
  • Something around the nerve is inflamed, pressing the nerve. Morton’s neuroma is a common example: the tissue around your foot’s nerves thickens up. It gives you pain between the toes and at the ball of your foot. Wearing high-heeled shoes and doing high-impact sports are common offenders.
  • A tight tendon or muscle is restricting the nerve. A tendon injury, like a damaged Achilles heel, plantar fasciitis, and overly tight toes (hammertoes), can pinch the nerve with the inflamed and tight tissue. Nerve pain in the foot can show up if the nerve is being pinched farther up the body, like with sciatica.

How can I stop nerve pain in my foot?

Talk to your doctor—nerve pain is a complex medical issue. Your doctor will likely start treating your foot pain with conservative methods that target the culprit. Anti-inflammatory medication, pain medication, offloading shoes, and lifestyle changes are common interventions, depending on what is causing the problem. 

However, foot nerve pain is often caused by an internal pinching that requires surgery. A disease process, like diabetes or arthritis, frequently makes your foot’s structure shift into pinching the nerve. These procedures can be as simple as fixing a bunion, releasing a tight ligament, or shaving a bone.

Can foot pain be relieved through surgery?

For a large number of diagnoses, absolutely. Even though surgery isn’t a conservative measure, it can help in ways conservative treatments often don’t.

What are the benefits?

It’ll save you money. Nerve compression syndrome leads to a host of other costly problems if it’s not resolved. Nerve surgery for your feet can help you avoid diabetic foot ulcers, infections, hospital care, and amputations.4

It’ll improve your sensation. Imagine your life with less foot pain, better balance, and better foot sensation. In one study of people who went through nerve decompression surgery,5 

  • 87% said they had a better sensation
  • 92% said they had a better balance
  • 86% reported less pain

And this was one year after their nerve decompression surgeries!

Talk to a nerve specialist

Want to hear more on how surgery can permanently fix peripheral neuropathy? Click here to hear from Dr. Tollestup himself. And if you’d like to make an appointment or get more information, we encourage you to contact the Tollestrup team at 702-505-8781.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2547889/#:~:text=The%20findings%20indicate%20that%20approximately,least%2010%25%20reported%20foot%20pain.
  2. https://www.foothealthfacts.org/article/evolving-surgery-helping-to-eliminate-foot-nerve-p 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398900/
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292386464_Rationale_Science_and_Economics_of_Surgical_Nerve_Decompression_for_Diabetic_Neuropathy_Foot_Complications  
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16166462/ 
[Talk to your doctor about your medical concerns. This article isn’t meant to diagnoses, provide a treatment plan, or provide medical advice.]