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Tibial Nerve: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 10, 2022

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What Is the Tibial Nerve?

The tibial nerve stems from your spinal nerves, branching off of the largest nerve in your body: the sciatic nerve. Your tibial nerve anatomy includes motor branches and sensory branches. The tibial nerve branches down your leg, connecting to other nerves that also help your legs function.  

Your tibial nerve sends messages down to your knee, ankle, and foot joints. The branches controlling your muscle movements, meanwhile, go down the back of your thigh and leg.  

Tibial nerve location. You'll find your tibial nerve between your superficial and deep muscles in the back of your leg. A thick layer of these muscles protects the nerve to help prevent problems resulting from leg trauma. Within your heel, your Achilles tendon similarly protects your tibial nerve, so injury to your tibial nerve is uncommon.

Tibial Nerve Anatomy: How Does the Tibial Nerve Function? 

Your tibial nerve has two main functions: motor and sensory. Branches run to 21 muscles in your legs in addition to extending sensory fibers down your leg. 

Motor nerves. Your tibial nerve helps you extend your hip, flex your knee and ankle, and rotate your knee. The tibial nerve allows you to flex your toes and roll your ankles. Your tibial nerve sends messages to toes big and small and makes them move. 

Sensory nerves. The tibial nerve plays a prominent role in transmitting sensations felt by your heel, the surface of your foot, and more when you walk, sit, and move around.  

Signs Something Could Be Wrong With Your Tibial Nerve

If you start feeling pain or uncomfortable sensations in your foot, you might have problems affecting your tibial nerve. These sensations may include a burning feeling at the bottom of your foot and toes. Alternatively, you may experience numbness, tingling, and other painful or unusual sensations. 

In other cases, weakness in your foot muscles, toes, and ankle could indicate tibial nerve problems. If you start to experience these symptoms, you could have tibial nerve dysfunction. Also known as tibial neuropathy, tibial nerve dysfunction can cause tarsal tunnel syndrome in your ankle or foot. 

What Conditions Affect the Tibial Nerve? 

Tarsal tunnel syndrome. If your tibial nerve becomes pinched, you may feel pain, tingling, or numbness in your foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome can also damage the muscles in your feet.

Compartment syndrome. This syndrome causes swelling in a section of your leg, pressurizing and traumatizing the area. This swelling can damage the tibial nerve and cause motor and sensory problems in your foot and ankle, including a burning feeling in your foot or weakness in your toes.

Tibial nerve injury. While it is rare, physical damage to your tibial nerve can occur. Since the nerve is close to other vital parts of your leg, such damage can cause significant problems. You may have trouble walking or a lack of feeling in your leg. Reconstruction is often possible, though.

Still, in the meantime, tibial nerve damage from a pinched or damaged nerve can make using your foot almost impossible. Without your tibial nerve, you won’t be able to stand on your tiptoes, extend your foot, or walk like you once did. 

Symptoms in your feet and legs include: 

  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Weakness
  • Pain
  • Numbness

Foot drop. Also called drop foot, this condition is diagnosed when you can't lift the front part of your foot. Foot drop is a sign of a more significant underlying condition. This may be a neurological or muscular problem. A foot drop can be temporary or permanent depending on whether the underlying condition is treated. 

Talk to your doctor immediately when you notice problems with your feet or toes. In most cases, pain and burning sensations can be linked to a nerve problem. If so, your doctor can draw up a treatment plan so that damage to your feet and legs hopefully doesn't become permanent. 

How to Protect Your Tibial Nerve

A treatment plan will depend on what kind of symptoms you're experiencing and the underlying cause of your pain. However, there are a few home remedies you can use to treat foot pain. 

For example, resting your leg and putting ice on the affected area can reduce symptoms. Over-the-counter medications are another form of pain management. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in particular can help reduce pain and any potential swelling. Your doctor can also prescribe a steroid injection into your ankle if the pain worsens. In some cases, you may need a brace or a specialized orthopedic shoe to stabilize your foot or ankle.

You can also prevent damage from occurring in the first place by staying healthy and protecting your legs and body. Taking care of your health means taking care of your nerves, too.

Spending time on the treadmill or going for a 30-minute walk is good for your heart and your body. Staying active helps improve your circulation and reduce problems affecting your nerves. Stretching can also help prevent strains and other issues in your legs.  

A healthy diet can also improve your nerve health. Try eating foods with vitamin D and B12 to support your nerves. A proper diet can help keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, so if you have foot pain related to diabetes, keeping your body regulated will reduce the chance of persistent issues.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Cleveland Clinic: “Tibial Nerve.”
Desai, S., & Cohen-Levy, W., StatPearls, “Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Tibial Nerve.,” StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.”
Lew, J., & Stearns, M., StatPearls, “Tibial Neuropathy,” StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
Loma Linda University Health: “5 ways sitting is killing your nerves.”
Mayo Clinic: “Foot drop.”
Mount Sinai: “Tibial nerve dysfunction.”
Plastic and Aesthetic Research: “Isolated tibial nerve injury: a rare presentation.”
Radiopaedia: “Tibial nerve.”

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