Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a compression, or squeezing, on the posterior tibial nerve that produces symptoms anywhere along the path of the nerve running from the inside of the ankle into the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs in the wrist. Both disorders arise from the compression of a nerve in a confined space.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by anything that produces compression on the posterior tibial nerve, such as:
- A person with flat feet is at risk for developing tarsal tunnel syndrome, because the outward tilting of the heel that occurs with “fallen” arches can produce strain and compression on the nerve.
- An enlarged or abnormal structure that occupies space within the tunnel can compress the nerve. Some examples include a varicose vein, ganglion cyst, swollen tendon, and arthritic bone spur.
- An injury, such as an ankle sprain, may produce inflammation and swelling in or near the tunnel, resulting in compression of the nerve.
- Systemic diseases such as diabetes or arthritis can cause swelling, thus compressing the nerve.
Patients with tarsal tunnel syndrome experience one or more of the following symptoms: tingling, burning, electric shooting sensations, numbness, or any other description of nerve pain.
Symptoms are typically felt on the inside of the ankle and/or on the bottom of the foot. In some people, a symptom may be isolated and occur in just one spot. In others, it may extend to the heel, arch, toes, and even the calf.
Sometimes the symptoms of the syndrome appear suddenly. Often they are brought on or aggravated by overuse of the foot, such as in prolonged standing, walking, exercising, or beginning a new exercise program.
It is very important to seek early treatment if any of the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome occur. If left untreated, the condition progresses and may result in permanent nerve damage.
Advanced imaging studies (such as an Ultrasound or MRI) may be ordered if a mass is suspected or if initial treatment does not reduce the symptoms. Studies used to evaluate nerve problems—electromyography and nerve conduction velocity (EMG/NCV)—may be ordered if the condition shows no improvement with non-surgical treatment.
A variety of treatment options, often used in combination, are available to treat tarsal tunnel syndrome. These include: rest, icing, oral anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, injections, orthotic devices, braces, shoes. Sometimes surgery is the best option for treating tarsal tunnel syndrome to release the pressure around the nerve.