Common Disorders
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Did you know the foot has 28 bones, 37 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, and numerous tendons? These parts all work together to allow the foot to move in a variety of ways while balancing your weight and propelling you forward or backward on even or uneven surfaces. It is no wonder that most Americans will experience a foot problem that will require the care of a specialist at one point or another in their lifetime.

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is due to compression of a nerve called the Posterior Tibial Nerve.The nerve passes into the foot from around the inside of the ankle just below the ankle bone. Just beyond this point, the nerve enters the foot by passing between a muscle and a bone in the foot. This area is called the Tarsal Tunnel. The Posterior Tibial Nerve is the largest nerve that enters the foot. At the level of the ankle, the nerve branches out like the branches of a tree as it goes out toward the toes. This nerve supplies most of the sensation to the bottom of the foot and the muscles in the bottom of the foot. When pressure is placed on this nerve, a burning or numbness will be experienced on the bottom of the foot. The area of the bottom of the foot that is affected can be variable. Most commonly, it affects the outside portion of the bottom of the foot. It can also affect the toes, mimicking a neuroma. The most common cause of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is a flat foot or a foot in which the arch flattens excessively while walking. Over time, this causes the nerve to stretch or become compressed in the area of the tarsal tunnel. The condition is slowly progressive and occurs more commonly after 30 to 40 years of age. Other causes of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome are the formation of soft tissue masses such as ganglionsfibromas, or lipomas that may occur in the Tarsal Tunnel and cause compression of the nerve. Also, small varicose veins may form around the nerve that can also cause compression of the nerve.

A neuroma is the swelling of nerve that is a result of a compression or trauma. They are often described as nerve tumors. However, they are not in the purest sense a tumor. They are a swelling within the nerve that may result in permanent nerve damage. The most common site for a neuroma is on the ball of the foot. The most common cause of neuroma in ball of the foot is the abnormal movement of the long bones behind the toes called metatarsal bones. A small nerve passes between the spaces of the metatarsals. At the base of the toes, the nerves split forming a "Y" and enter the toes. It is in this area the nerve gets pinched and swells, forming the neuroma. Burning pain, tingling, and numbness in one or two of the toes is a common symptom. Sometimes this pain can become so severe, it can bring tears to a patient's eyes. Removing the shoe and rubbing the ball of the foot helps to ease the pain. As the nerve swells, it can be felt as a popping sensation when walking. Pain is intermittent and is aggravated by anything that results in further pinching of the nerve. When the neuroma is present in the space between the third and fourth toes, it is called a Morton's Neuroma. This is the most common area for a neuroma to form. Another common area is between the second and third toes. Neuromas can occur in one or both of these areas and in one or both feet at the same time. Neuromas are very rare in the spaces between the big toe and second toe, and between the fourth and fifth toes. Neuromas have been identified in the heel area, resulting in heel pain.

A puncture wound or laceration that injures a nerve can cause a neuroma. These are called traumatic Neuromas. Neuromas can also result following a surgery that may result in the cutting of a nerve.

The chemical destruction of the nerve, called neurolysis, is an older form of treatment that has recently come back into vogue. This treatment requires a series of injections of ethanol mixed with a local anesthetic. The injections are given into the area of the neuroma. Nerve tissue has a natural affinity for ethanol, and it is readily absorbed into the nerve. Ethanol, however, is toxic to nerve tissue and with repeated exposure, will destroy the nerve. The rate of success is variable, but has been reported to be over 60%. Many insurance plans will not pay for weekly injections and require the doctor to wait a minimum of ten days between injections before they will reimburse for the procedure. This likely reduces the rate of success for this treatment, because during the time between the injections, the nerve will attempt to repair itself. One way to solve this delay is for the patient to pay for those injections not paid for by the insurance plan. The disadvantages for this form of treatment are the need for repeated visits to the doctor’s office, and the occasional pain in the area of the injection the following day or two after it has been administered. The advantages to this form of treatment is that it requires a minimal amount of time off of work and the overall cost as compared to the surgical removal of the nerve. If this form of treatment fails, then surgical removal is the only option that remains.

Peripheral Neuropathy is a nerve condition that affects the arms, hands, legs, and feet. The most common form of peripheral neuropathy is due to diabetes.

Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy

People with diabetes have an abnormal elevation of their blood sugar, and lack adequate insulin to metabolize the blood sugar. As a consequence, the blood glucose (sugar) abnormally enters certain nerve tissue and damages the nerve. This can occur in any type of diabetes. It does not matter if the patient is on insulin, is taking pills, or is diet controlled. The nerve damage that occurs is considered to be permanent.

As the nerve damage occurs, the protective sensations are affected. These include a person's ability to determine the difference between sharp and dull, hot and cold, pressure differences, and vibration. These senses become dulled and/or altered. The process begins as a burning sensation in the toes and progresses up the foot in a "stocking distribution". As the condition progresses, the feet become more and more numb. Some people will feel as though a pair of socks on their feet, when in fact they do not. Other patients will describe the feeling of walking on cotton, or a water-filled cushion. Some patients complain of their feet burn at night, making it difficult to sleep. The feet may also feel like they are cold, however, to the touch, they have normal skin temperature. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is not reversible. The progression of the condition can be slowed or halted by maintaining normal blood glucose levels.