Tibial nerve dysfunction is an unusual form of peripheral neuropathy. It occurs when there is damage to the tibial nerve, one of the lower branches of the sciatic nerve of the leg. The tibial nerve supplies movement and sensation to the calf and foot muscles.
A problem in function with a single nerve group, such as the tibial nerve, is called mononeuropathy. The usual causes are:
Pressure on the nerve for a long period of time
Pressure on the nerve from nearby body structures
Entrapment createes pressure on the nerve where it passes through a narrow structure.
The damage may destroy the myelin sheath that protects and insulates the nerve, or part of the nerve cell (the axon). This damage reduces or prevents the movement of impulses through the nerve.
The tibial nerve is often injured by pressure from a ligament on the inner part of the ankle. Injury or disease of structures near the knee may also damage the tibial nerve. The tibial nerve may also be affected by diseases that damage many nerves, such as diabetes.
In some cases, no cause can be found.
Sensation changes in the bottom of the foot and toes, including
numbness, tingling, or other abnormal sensation, or pain
Weakness of foot muscles
Weakness of the toes or ankle
Signs and tests
An examination of the legs will be done to diagnose tibial nerve dysfunction. The health care provider will also take a medical history.
Inability to curl the toes, push the foot down, or twist the ankle inward
In severe cases, the foot muscles may become very weak and the foot may be deformed.
Tests for tibial nerve dysfunction may include:
EMG (a recording of electrical activity in muscles)
Other tests that may be ordered include blood tests and imaging tests, such as ultrasound or MRI.
Treatment is aimed at restoring feeling and strength to the foot and toes. In some cases, no treatment is needed, and patients will recover on their own. Severe loss of sensation may lead to toe or foot sores (ulcers) and infections.
Surgery to enlarge the tarsal tunnel or transfer the nerve helps reduce pressure on the tibial nerve and may benefit some people.
Over-the-counter analgesics may be helpful for mild pain (neuralgia). Other medicines may be prescribed to help control severe pain.
Physical therapy exercises may help some people maintain muscle strength.
Job counseling, therapy, changes, or retraining may be recommended.
If the cause of the tibial nerve dysfunction can be found and successfully treated, patients can recover fully. Some people may have a partial or complete loss of movement or sensation. Nerve pain may be uncomfortable and last for a long period of time.
Deformity of the foot (mild to severe)
Movement loss in the toes (partial or complete)
Repeated or unnoticed injury to the leg
Sensation loss in the toes or foot (partial or complete)
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms of tibial nerve dysfunction are present. Early diagnosis and treatment increases the likelihood that symptoms can be controlled.
Prevention is variable depending on the cause of the nerve damage.
Katitji B, Koontz D. Disorders of the peripheral nerves. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC. Bradley’s Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA:Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 76.
Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, Department of Neurosurgery, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Department of Anatomy, University of California, San Francisco, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.