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What is the Tibial Nerve?

By Archana Khambekar
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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The tibial nerve is a branch of the sciatic nerve, which commences in the lower back and extends to the legs. One of its functions is to convey signals related to movement and sensation to the lower leg and feet. Sometimes, this nerve may suffer damage from an injury or specific health conditions, and can lead to symptoms such as nerve pain, and movement difficulty. After diagnosing the underlying cause of the nerve dysfunction, the doctor will recommend appropriate treatment to relieve symptoms and improve patient’s mobility.

The tibial nerve is an offshoot of the sciatic nerve, and courses down the leg along the back of the knee joint. It innervates or provides nerve connections to the calf and lower leg muscles that are used in activities such as walking, standing, running, and jumping. Subsequently, it proceeds to the ankle and then to the foot, where it splits to form medial and lateral plantar nerves.

Normally, the tibial nerve is enclosed in a layer called as the myelin sheath. This sheath is composed of proteins and fats. It facilitates quick transmission of impulses through the nerve cells.

As the tibial nerve conducts signals involved in sensation and movement of the leg and foot, damage to the nerve can impact these functions. Malfunctioning of the nerve is considered to be a type of peripheral neuropathy. The nerve may suffer damage due to a fracture or trauma to the knee or the lower leg. In some cases, the nerve might be subjected to pressure from a tumor or cyst in the lower leg region.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome, which is an affliction of the foot, might result from compression of the tibial nerve located in a confined space on the inner part of the ankle. Sometimes the functioning of the nerve could be affected due to certain diseases. For instance, diabetes is one of the disorders that can cause nerve damage.

Damage may also occur in the myelin sheath of the nerve or in the nerve cell. Harm to the tibial nerve can impair the transmission of impulses. It could cause pain, numbness or a tingling sensation in the foot. The patient may experience debility in knee or foot area and have trouble walking. The degree of the loss of movement or sensation depends on the severity of the nerve damage.

Typically, a doctor may perform a physical examination, consider the symptoms, and call for tests to diagnose nerve damage. The doctor may indicate treatment depending on the reason for the impairment of the nerve. The treatment prescribed could include medication to ease the nerve pain. Sometimes, physical therapy, and occupational therapy may be advised.

People who experience urinary urgency or incontinence are sometimes recommended tibial nerve stimulation treatment. Typically, this procedure involves the use of low-frequency electrical stimulation on the tibial nerve about the ankle, which in turn conveys the impluses to a set of nerves that control bladder function. This procedure may be performed in the doctor’s office, and could benefit those with overactive bladder problems.

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Discussion Comments
By anon339593 — On Jun 24, 2013

Thank you for the article on Tibial nerve dysfunction. A few months ago I had an EMG. The neurologist told me that it was normal, however, the report he sent to my primary physician stated that bilaterally my tibia is non-responsive and my left ankle response is delayed. I never understood how this could be considered normal.

I stumble, trip and fall often and my husband says I no longer pick up my feet when walking but shuffle. Your article has given me some understanding that this is not normal. I also have a tethered spinal cord syndrome from an injury.

By anon273699 — On Jun 08, 2012

My seven year old daughter has just been diagnosed with axonal, sensory and motor peripheral neuropathy. What can I do to stimulate those nerves in her lower legs and feet?

By pharmchick78 — On Sep 09, 2010

@streamfinder -- You're thinking of the radial nerve, not the tibial nerve. The radial nerve controls your upper limb function, i.e., your biceps and forearms.

Although it doesn't directly innervate the hand, it is close to the ulnar nerve, which innervates the ring finger and pinky, and also runs close to the median nerve, the main culprit for hand problems.

So rather than either your tibial or radial nerve, you should focus on your median nerve if you've been having hand problems. Damage or compression to the median nerve is more than likely the problem.

Best of luck.

By StreamFinder — On Sep 09, 2010

This may be a really stupid question, but could problems with the tibial nerve perhaps cause nerve pain in the hand? I've been having trouble with my hand (nerves feeling pinched,etc.), and could have sworn somebody said it had to do with my tibial nerve.

But after reading this, that sounds really wrong -- can someone help me out?

By LittleMan — On Sep 09, 2010

Very interesting article. My mother was recently diagnosed with tibial nerve neuropathy symptoms. They think it may be posterior tibial nerve neuralgia, but they're not sure yet...we're still waiting on tests.

However, I'm really glad that you guys have such a detailed article on tibial nerve dysfunction. I really appreciate having the information.

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