The term “palsy” refers to a localized paralysis whereby the ability for voluntary movement of a specific part of the body is greatly reduced or rendered impossible.
Using this definition, peroneal nerve palsy is a paralysis of the common peroneal nerve,(also referred to as the fibular nerve) that adversely affects the ability of a person to move his or her ankle in a normal manner so that the foot can be lifted. Therefore, the person with this kind of nerve palsy is not able to walk normally.
The most obvious symptom of peroneal nerve palsy is weakness in the ankle which hinders the ability to lift the foot, either to a mild, moderate, or severe degree. This is a condition known as drop foot or foot drop. This can result in a walking pattern known as a “slapping gait” (during which a slapping noise is made whenever a step is taken), also called steppage gait, or simply footdrop gait. This kind of peroneal neuropathy can result in the total inability to walk at all.
Primary Causes of Peroneal Nerve Palsy
The most common cause is an injury or some kind of trauma either to the knee or to the fibula (the outer bone between the knee and the ankle). Car accidents, sports injuries, or even complications from knee or leg surgery can all result peroneal nerve injury. Any kind of fall or just hitting the leg against a hard surface such as a table can unexpectedly lead to nerve damage.
Another cause of palsy related to the peroneal nerve is compression of the leg in a high plaster cast for an extended period of time. This can lead to peroneal nerve entrapment. Frequently wearing high boots can create the same problem. Crossing one’s legs, a common tendency of women especially, can also eventually result in nerve entrapment or damage to the peroneal nerve in back of the knee.
Peroneal Nerve Palsy Treatment
The inability to walk normally is a condition that presents enormous challenges. The goal of treatment is to improve a person’s ability to get around and enhance his or her quality of life.
Any underlying diseases or illnesses must be addressed and dealt with in order to reduce as much as possible their affect on the peripheral nerves.
If the palsy is caused by pressure on the nerve, as opposed to outright damage to the nerve itself, injections of corticosteroids may help. Surgery may even help in these circumstances.
Physical therapy exercises may also be recommended, with the aim of maintaining whatever muscle strength still exists in the affected ankle and foot.
Orthopedic devices, either custom braces or over the counter splints or braces that help with foot drop, can make a huge difference in a person’s mobility and self-confidence.
Peroneal Nerve Palsy Recovery
Whether or not a person with this kind of nerve disability can eventually recover normal functioning of the foot and ankle depends on the exact cause of the problem.
As noted above, palsy that results from pressure on the nerve can sometimes be treated with steroid injections or surgery.
The passage of time combined with the services of a physical therapist may also aid in the recovery of normal functioning if the pressure or damage is mild or even moderate.
However, if the actual damage to the peroneal nerve is severe, then the unfortunate outcome is usually permanent disability, along with chronic nerve pain.
One mitigating factor about a permanent condition of peroneal nerve palsy is that it is not associated with a shortened lifespan.
This condition discussed in this article is a type of peripheral neuropathy, which refers to damage to nerves in the hands and feet. Some estimates indicate that as many as 20 million people in the United States suffer from some kind of peripheral neuropathy, with perhaps diabetic neuropathy being the most common type. Numbness or tingling in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes is a common symptom. Persons of any age can be afflicted with this problem.