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What Is the Plantar Nerve?

Frequent runners may experience a condition called medial plantar neuropraxia.
Ballet dancers are at risk of overstressing their plantar nerves.
The plantar nerves collectively provide sensation and control to a large part of the foot.
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  • Written By: N. Schmoll
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
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As an important part of the nervous system, the plantar nerve is not one nerve but actually two nerves that together supply sensation to the muscles and skin of the feet and toes. The lateral plantar nerve controls deep foot muscles and movement of the fourth and fifth toes. The medial plantar nerve is larger and delivers sensation to the middle and soles of the feet as well as to the skin on the first through fourth toes. Both are offshoots of the tibial nerve.

The nervous system is an organ system common to humans and animals. Humans have central nervous systems that are responsible for controlling blood flow and movement to the brain, spinal cord and eyes. All of the other nerves in a person’s body, including the tibial and plantar nerves, are part of what is called the peripheral nervous system. That system is a collection of nerves that runs throughout the entire body and connects different body parts to the central nervous system, helping the body to function properly.

The tibial nerve is an offshoot of the sciatic nerve and is the root from which the plantar nerve forms. Starting at the hip, the tibial nerve runs down the leg to the inner side of heel, where it branches off into the plantar nerves. Sensation in the heel of the foot is caused by the tibial nerve.

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Feeling on the outer side of the foot is caused by the lateral plantar nerve. That nerve controls sensation from the the point where the tibial nerve lets off to the outer half of the fourth toe. The medial plantar nerve controls sensation for a wider area, including the inner side of the foot from the base of the heel to the tip of the first, second and third toes and the inner half of the fourth toe.

Together, the plantar nerves deliver feeling and control to the majority of the foot. Ballet dancers, joggers and people who run frequently are at an increased risk of developing pain from this nerve because they put more stress on their feet. A condition called medial plantar neuropraxia, or jogger’s foot, is a cause of heel pain in marathon runners and frequent runners. People who have flat feet are more likely to develop jogger’s foot.

Constant running or trauma from ballet moves might cause the medial plantar nerve to swell near the heel. Inflammation leads to pain in that area. The most effective treatment for jogger’s foot is to stay off the foot for an extended period of time. In particular, an absence from running, jogging or dancing for a period of time will reduce the swelling and allow the nerve to return to its normal size. Cortisone injections are sometimes used to relieve pain but are administered sparingly so that they don't cause deterioration of the plantar nerve.

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