Foot & Ankle

Numb Ankles and the Degenerative Illnesses They Can Preclude

By November 4, 2019 No Comments

The ankles are a delicate mix of some of the smallest, most intricate pockets of cartilage, ligament, tendon, muscle, and bone within the human body. Though these tissues are minor compared to the rest of the human body, they sustain the most burden and are therefore some of the most susceptible to an injury.

If even a small portion of the ankle is injured, this can affect the mechanics and interaction between each of the other tissues, leading to several adverse symptoms. One of the most common of these symptoms is numbness around the ankle. This numbness can be a sign of one of several degenerative illnesses or a deeper injury within the ankle.

In this article we’ll explain the mechanics of numb ankles, how they are caused, how they can lead to further complications in the tissues of the lower leg, and possible treatments for the valuable soft tissues within the ankle.

Why Are My Ankles Going Numb?
Numb ankles can be caused by one of several factors. An injury which has failed to heal properly, the onset of arthritis or osteoarthritis, pinched nerves or arteries, and many other less common issues may lead to numbness of the ankle and its surrounding tissues.

Along with numbness, an individual may typically experience a tingling or burning sensation as they use the ankle more and more. These signs can weaken the ankle and cause it to lose its load bearing ability. Overtime, these issues may degenerate the tissues within the ankle further and further leaving a person’s ankle fully immobile. 

The sets of tissues most commonly associated with ankle numbness are the major ligaments and major muscles. Due to the intricate system of tissues, when one breaks down, this weakens the stability of the entire ankle leading to imbalance and eventually break down of the cartilage within the ankle and the swelling which eventually causes numbness.

These include:

Major Ankle Ligaments

  • The Lateral Ligament Complex which is made up of the “Anterior Talofibular Ligament” (ATFL), the “Calcaneofibular Ligament” (CFL), and the “Posterior Talofibular Ligament” (PTFL). These ligaments help support the intricate bone structures within the ankle by connecting them to one another.
  • The “Deltoid Ligament” which provides support to movements towards the inner side of the ankle.
  • The “Anterior Inferior Tibiofibular Ligament” (AITFL), a connective ligament between the tibia and the fibula.
  • The “Posterior Inferior Tibiofibular Ligament” (PITFL) and “Transverse Ligament” which cross together to support pressure applied to the back of the ankle.

This intricate network of ligaments surrounds and supports the ankle and helps provide fluidity to its movements as well as controls the force applied throughout the ankle.

Major Ankle Muscles

  • Known as “Peroneal Muscles”, the peroneus longus and peroneus brevis provide the force necessary for the ankle to bend perpendicular to the leg. These muscles are nested on the outside of the foot and ankle.
  • In addition to the peroneal muscles, the “Calf Muscles” known as the gastrocnemius and soleus help stimulate ankle movements downward and upward by connecting to the Achilles tendon within the ankle.
  • Finally, the “Posterior Tibialis” and “Anterior Tibialis” muscles enable inward (closer to the center of the body) and outward (away from the center of the body) movements.

This complex system of ligaments and muscles creates an abundance of opportunity for injury or degeneration which can lead to numbness as the soft tissue structures devolve. As these tissues break down, further complications can ensue, though periodic numbness is often one of the first of the symptoms of these much larger issues.

How Did This Start?
Due to the intricate nature of the tissues within the ankle, it can be hard to pinpoint a precise cause for an individual’s ankle numbness. Injuries which fail to heal properly, even those which seem minor, can develop into major issues which lead to a feeling of numbness or tingling within the ankle.

Other issues which can lead to a numb ankle include degenerative illnesses such as arthritis and osteoarthritis. These degenerative illness cause tissues to break down within the ankle leading to swelling. In turn, this swelling constricts the nerves within the joint and leads to the feeling of numbness around the ankle. 

In order to properly deduce the inciting factors to a person’s numbness, doctors usually have to examine the person’s medical history, perform a physical inspection of the ankle, and follow all of this up with medical imaging such as MRIs, CAT scans, and X-rays.

This dive into a patient’s medical history and subsequent examinations will help a doctor pinpoint the tissues which may be at fault and develop a plan to combat the progression of the symptoms. If numbness in the ankle is persistent or if episodes become worse overtime, it may be time to seek out a medical examination.

Will the Numbness Get Worse?
Unfortunately, a consequence of slow action when treating any degenerative issue is worsening symptoms, including numbness. Slowly, as tissues wear away, symptoms will begin to express themselves more fully – episodes of numbness will become longer, weakness and instability will get worse, eventually immobility may set in.

Symptoms such as numbness will develop more quickly in a patient who has suffered an injury than one who has a degenerative illness such as arthritis, but unlike degenerative illnesses, these symptoms will typically “bottom out” at a certain point and cease getting worse. 

Symptoms from degenerative illnesses typically take years to manifest, but the problem is, once they do express themselves, they will only get worse and worse until the tissues are completely gone. As the body gets older, it’s healing factor wanes, and thus its natural ability to combat the degeneration brought on by arthritis wanes as well.

Fortunately, new medicines are being created everyday which not only help combat the progression of degeneration, but also help to restore the tissues which were lost. These radical treatments are not new, in fact, they’ve been studied for over a half a century and are continuing to be developed on to this day. Treatments such as stem cell and PRP therapy are creating a new hope for those combatting issues such as chronically numb ankles.

How Do I Treat My Ankle Numbness?
Unlike conventional treatments such as medication, physical therapy, and surgery, regenerative therapies aim to not only combat the symptoms of degenerative illnesses or injuries, but their underlying root cause as well.

Stem cell and PRP therapies have been shown to help boost the body’s response to degenerative illnesses and restore once lost tissues. By extracting either blood, adipose (fat), or bone marrow directly from a patient, processing it, then reinjecting the new solution back into a patient, these treatments and their growth factors accelerate the healing process and provide an environment suitable for repairs to be made.

Platelet Rich Plasma, or PRP therapy is the process of extracting blood from a patient and isolating the platelets and mixing them with growth factors to create a treatment which chemically calls reparative cells to the site of an injury. 

This treatment has been around for decades and is prominent amongst professional athletes, celebrities, and, due to advancements in PRP technology, are now available to the average citizen at a cost-friendly price. 

Naturally found in the blood, platelets are responsible for forming the clots which stop bleeding as well as create chemical impulses which trigger a healing response from the body. By isolating these tissues and reinjecting them into the body, doctors can amplify the effects of the body’s typical response to an injury.

Stem cell therapy has also been around for decades although advancements in stem cell sciences have led to the discovery of less morally ambiguous treatments in the form of mesenchymal stem cells. These cells are sourced directly from the fat and bone marrow tissues of a patient. By extracting these tissues, doctors have found a way to process them into a more basic state where they become malleable, able to transform into various cells within the human body.

Injecting these mesenchymal stem cells once they’ve been processed can help restore various lost tissues and reduce symptoms such as numbness throughout the body. Once inside a patient, this treatment helps stabilize the environment around an injured body part and subsequently call on the body to repair the damaged tissues therein.

Additionally, these treatments can now be administered using special real-time medical imaging technology in order to more accurately place them within the body. This accuracy coupled with the amplifying health effects have been shown to help the body better restore damaged tissues and reduce symptoms of degenerative illnesses more effectively than conventional treatments alone. 

Conclusion
Numbness in the ankles can be a sign of worse things to come. As the structures within the joint break down, the numbness becomes more prevalent and other symptoms can begin to manifest, including limited range of motion, swelling, and instability. While conventional treatments may help control the symptoms of an ankle issue, they do little to nothing to treat the actual problem – tissue degeneration.

Unlike conventional treatments, regenerative therapies such as stem cell and PRP can help combat the progression of symptoms and return functionality to various joints throughout the body.

If you are interested in learning more about how stem cell and PRP therapies can help treat your numb ankles, contact the CELLAXYS offices today to set up a consultation.

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Dr. Matthew HC Otten

Director of Orthopedic & Orthobiologics
Fellowship-trained & Board Certified in Sports medicine
Director Angiography at Harvard Clinical Research Institute
Michigan Stage University Alumni