Sural Nerve: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 07, 2022
4 min read

The sural nerve provides sensation to the back of the lower leg, including the calf, outer ankle, heel, and toes. The sural nerve aids in foot placement and balance by sensing pain, temperature, and vibration. 

Several health conditions can affect sural nerve function, including diabetes-related neuropathy and sports injuries. It's possible to help prevent or delay sural nerve damage, though, by including foods high in vitamins D and B12 in your diet, maintaining proper blood sugar levels, quitting smoking, and wearing proper footwear.

The sural nerve is a cutaneous nerve: a nerve that transmits sensation to the skin. The sural nerve is located beneath the skin at the back of the calf of each leg. The sural nerve provides sensation to the outer part of your foot, heel, and ankle, as well as the back of your leg below your knee. 

Interesting facts about the sural nerve:

  • The sural nerve is one of the most commonly donated tissues used to repair other damaged nerves.
  • In Latin, "sura" means "calf," which is where the sural nerve is located.

The sural nerve provides sensation. It is part of the larger peripheral nervous system (PNS), which is one of two main structures of the body's nervous system. 

The sural nerve also helps you maintain balance by guiding foot placement when you're on your feet. Other sensations the sural nerve allows you to detect include:

  • Vibrations
  • Touch
  • Temperature
  • Pain

The sural nerve also plays a vital role in diagnosing and treating other nerve disorders. It is the most common donor nerve used for medical biopsies and nerve grafting due to its diameter and length.

The sural nerve is located at the back of your lower legs. It starts in your upper calf, stretches down the back of your outer leg, and passes through your ankle, ending in your toe.

Because the sural nerve is located just beneath the skin's surface, it is relatively easy for healthcare professionals to use it for biopsies or nerve grafting.

Common signs of a sural nerve injury include:

  • A lack of sensation or numbness
  • Tingling or burning
  • Sharp or throbbing pain
  • Sensitivity to touch

Sural nerve pain or sensitivity can be signs of multiple (potentially severe) medical conditions. If you experience severe or persistent pain in your lower legs or feet, consult a healthcare provider.

Medical conditions that affect the sural nerve include:

Diabetes-related neuropathy. This is a form of nerve damage that can occur if you have diabetes. Diabetes-related neuropathy most commonly affects the legs and feet, and symptoms range from mild to severe. 

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain or numbness in your legs, feet, or hands
  • Problems with digestion
  • Urinary tract issues
  • Complications affecting your blood vessels or heart

Diabetes-related neuropathy can be prevented or delayed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and closely managing your blood sugar levels.

Sports injuries. A sports-related injury can damage the sural nerve and cause pain or discomfort. Ankle sprains, one of the most common sports injuries, can stretch or tear your ligaments, which are connective tissue that helps hold your ankle bones together. An ankle sprain can cause your foot's joint to fall out of its natural position, leading to sural nerve damage.

Symptoms of a sport-related sural nerve injury may include:

  • Restricted range of motion
  • Pain, especially when bearing weight
  • Ankle instability
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Swelling or bruising

If footwear covering the lower leg is strapped on too tight, that can also lead to sural nerve damage.

There are several steps you can take to keep your sural nerve healthy. 

Manage blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, maintaining a healthy blood sugar range is critical if you hope to prevent sural nerve damage. High blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage throughout the body, particularly in the legs and feet.

Quit smoking. Among other serious health conditions, tobacco use has a significant negative effect on the body's nervous system. Quitting smoking can help prevent future health problems related to nerve damage. 

Wear proper athletic shoes and replace them as needed. Wearing proper footwear when participating in sports or going about your daily routine is crucial to preventing leg and foot injuries. Because footwear deteriorates over time, and more quickly if you are physically active while wearing them, you should replace your athletic shoes every couple of months.

Maintain a healthy diet. Foods with vitamins D and B12 are known to support nerve health. Vitamin B12, in particular, has been shown to help alleviate pain related to neuropathy.