The human nervous system is a remarkably complex and efficient system that spans the entire body, but a particularly dense concentration of nerves can be found down in the feet. Actually, the feet have more nerve endings per square inch than anywhere else in the body. The peripheral nerves that report back to the brain are constantly collecting information regarding surfaces, so we can instinctually alter our gait pattern to accommodate for changes in slope or texture.
Nerves play a major role in how our feet function, but they can also cause issues when they are damaged. In these instances, we may need to use nerve surgery to correct the problem. If so, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you have an experienced, skilled medical professional like Dr. Evan Merrill performing the procedure for you.
Conditions That May Require Neurosurgery
Essentially, there are two main nerve conditions that may require surgical procedures:
- Neuromas. In this condition, a nerve has become damaged either by physical trauma or abnormal biomechanical processes within the foot. Typically, the neuroma develops in the ball of foot area and results in tingling, burning, or numb sensations. Many patients report feeling as though they have a pebble in their shoe or sock, when none is actually present. Neurosurgery may be necessary to remove a nerve that has become permanently damaged.
- Peripheral neuropathy. There are many potential causes of damage to the peripheral nerves, including diabetes, autoimmune disorders, infections, exposure to toxins, and vitamin deficiencies. This condition tends to be particularly prevalent in the men and women who have diabetes.
Determining if Surgery is Necessary
Not all cases of nerve problems need to be handled surgically. Sometimes, medication, corticosteroid injections, and/or physical therapy can be quite effective. When a nerve is damaged, but is healing properly on its own, you may simply need to rest the affected area while it heals completely. If the condition develops in response to a different medical issue, treatment for the underlying problem may resolve the issue. This is particularly true for cases of neuropathy that develop as a side effect to medication.
If a damaged nerve is not healing and conservative care is not providing the results we would hope to see, then we may need to consider nerve surgery. Electromyography (EMG) testing can help us ascertain whether or not this is the case.
Surgical Procedures for Nerve Damage
A key component for neurosurgery is sewing together the insulation around both ends of a damaged nerve to allow new fibers to grow within and restore proper functionality.
Depending on the specific circumstances, we may need to remove a damaged section of a nerve and then implant a piece of nerve from elsewhere in the body (a graft) or reconnect the nerve’s healthy ends (nerve repair). These nerve surgeries can allow the tissue to regrow correctly. In other cases, we may perform a nerve transfer, which makes an injured nerve work by borrowing a working nerve from somewhere else in the body.
For severe nerve injuries, or ones that have been untreated for an extended period of time, we may recommend transferring tendons from one muscle to another in order to properly address the problem.
Recovering from Nerve Surgery
Part of the recovery process will be undergoing treatment and activities to help restore function to any muscles affected by the surgical procedure. These may include:
- Splints or braces. Holding the affected area in a proper position helps the healing processes and improves muscle function more quickly.
- Electrical stimulation. Muscles may be activated with the use of electrical stimulation to reduce pain and promote healing after surgery.
- Exercises and physical therapy. Physical activity can prevent stiffness, improve muscle strength, restore feeling and function, reduce muscle cramps, and maintain range of motion following neurosurgery.
Southern Oregon Nerve Surgery
Surgery is never an easy decision, but at least it becomes easier when you know that you have Dr. Evan Merrill and the team at Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle working for you. Our experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable medical professionals perform exceptional surgical procedures when they are necessary.
If you have any problem with your feet or ankles, including nerve issues, be sure to contact us and find out how we can help. You will be glad you did! Call us at (541) 776-3338 or schedule an appointment with our Medford, OR office online today.