Peroneal nerve pain may occur from damage to the peroneal nerve in the leg. People can experience tingling, numbness, weakness, or a change in how they walk.

The peroneal nerve, or the common fibular nerve, runs down the back of the thigh to the knee, wraps around to the front of the leg, and then runs down to the toes.

As the nerve reaches the knee, it branches into the deep peroneal nerve and superficial peroneal nerve. These branches supply nerves to the leg and control the muscles, allowing people to lift the ankles and toes upwards.

The peroneal nerve is a major nerve branching off from the sciatic nerve.

Peroneal nerve pain is a type of peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage occurring outside the brain or spinal cord.

Doctors may also refer to the condition as common fibular nerve dysfunction.

Shadows around a person's knees with peroneal nerve pain.Share on Pinterest
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Peroneal nerve damage can cause peroneal pain. Peroneal nerve damage may occur due to the following:

Certain medical conditions can also cause peroneal nerve damage, including:

Peroneal nerve injury is common in athletes, particularly football and soccer players.

Symptoms of peroneal nerve pain include:

  • pain, tingling, or numbness in the lower leg and top of the foot
  • weakness in the leg
  • inability to lift the ankle or toes upward
  • inability to move the foot
  • foot drop, in which people are unable to lift the front of the foot off the floor, causing them to drag their toes along the ground or lift the knee higher than usual to lift the foot

Learn more about foot drop here.

To diagnose peroneal nerve pain, a doctor may carry out a range of tests to determine the underlying cause of peroneal nerve damage and assess nerve and muscle function. This can include:

  • taking a full medical history
  • physical examination to assess symptoms
  • electromyography, which measures the electrical activity of muscles to show how effectively the nerves are stimulating them
  • nerve conduction study, which uses electrodes to stimulate the nerves and measure how quickly an electrical impulse travels through the nerve
  • magnetic resonance neurography, which is similar to an MRI scan and can provide detailed imaging of the nerves
  • other imaging tests, such as ultrasound, MRI, or CT scans

Treatment for peroneal nerve pain depends on the underlying cause and the extent of nerve damage.

If a person does not require surgery, treatment options include:

  • devices to support the leg or foot, such as braces, splints, or an ankle-foot orthotic to support walking in the case of foot drop
  • physical therapy, which may include stretching, balancing, mobilization, and strengthening exercises
  • using ice or taping to help recovery

If an underlying medical issue, such as diabetes, is causing peroneal nerve pain, managing the condition is an important part of treatment.

If there is no improvement in symptoms within 3 months, or if people have a severe injury, they may require surgery. If peroneal nerve pain is due to an injury with an open wound, a person will usually require surgery within 72 hours.

Surgical treatments include:

  • decompression surgery, which releases any pressure or compression on the peroneal nerve
  • nerve repair, which involves trimming any severe damage at the end of a nerve before sewing or gluing the two nerve ends back together
  • nerve grafting, which uses nerve tissue from another area of the body to bridge the gap between damaged nerve ends
  • nerve transfer, which reroutes a healthy nerve to connect to and regenerate the damaged nerve
  • tendon transfer, which reroutes a healthy tendon into a new position to restore muscle function if it no longer works properly due to nerve damage

Nerve repair surgery may be suitable for people who have a sharp cut to the nerve. A person may require nerve grafting or transfer if the gap between two nerve ends is too large or if the nerve has too much damage for nerve repair surgery.

Possible complications of peroneal nerve pain include:

  • peroneal nerve palsy
  • falls, which may cause injury or fractures
  • lack of awareness of injuries or sores on the feet, if people have a loss of sensation in the foot
  • mental health issues resulting from chronic pain

If people have diabetes with peroneal nerve damage, foot injuries may lead to serious complications without treatment. Diabetes can cause slow wound healing, increasing the risk of infections. In severe cases, this can result in gangrene.

Diabetes-related nerve damage may also lead to abnormal changes in the shape of the toes and feet. In rare cases, people may develop Charcot foot, where damage occurs to the bones and tissue in the foot.

The outlook for peroneal nerve pain may depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the nerve injury.

In some cases, physical therapy, orthotic devices, braces or splints, and gait retraining help relieve symptoms and improve mobility.

Peroneal nerve pain may get better or resolve over time with nonsurgical treatments. In some cases, surgery for peroneal nerve injury can lead to good or complete recovery, although this may take 12–24 months.

Treatments for foot drop usually result in partial or complete recovery.

People can prevent or reduce the risk of peroneal nerve pain by trying to avoid its causes. They can:

  • avoid sitting with crossed legs
  • remain physically active and avoid long periods of bed rest if possible
  • contact a doctor straight away if they are wearing a plaster cast and experience any tingling or numbness
  • manage any underlying conditions, such as diabetes
  • avoid high-impact sports or activities that can injure the knee, lower leg, or foot, or wear protective items
  • maintain a healthy weight

Peroneal nerve pain occurs due to compression or damage of the peroneal nerve in the leg.

Alongside pain, people may also experience tingling, numbness, or weakness in the leg. In some cases, people are unable to lift their foot off the ground as usual when walking.

Treatment for peroneal nerve pain helps prevent further nerve damage and relieve symptoms. Treatments include physical therapy, braces or splints, and surgery.