Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Things to Know

Anatomy of the Ankle

The ankle is a complex joint made up of many structures that provide both mobility and stability to the lower body. Bones, tendons, ligaments, muscles, nerves, bursae, and other components work together to give the ankle range of motion and the ability to support your various movements and activities. While the ankle is normally able to perform its functions well, so many moving parts means there are many different ways that things can go wrong.

What Is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

While most people are vaguely familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome, tarsal tunnel syndrome may be less familiar. The tarsal tunnel is a narrow passageway inside the ankle surrounded by bone and soft tissue (so named for the tarsals, which are the 7 bones of the foot). When the posterior tibial nerve is impinged in this passageway, the repeated pressure can cause tarsal tunnel syndrome.

The posterior tibial nerve, which branches off of the sciatic nerve, can be compressed due to many different causes. Chronic inflammation as with arthritis, flat feet or arches, body growths in the foot, varicose veins, benign masses, tumors, lipomas, diabetes, or acute traumas can all contribute to nerve compression.

Signs and Symptoms of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

For people who experience constant pressure of the compressed nerve in the foot and ankle, pain, numbness, and tingling may occur. Common symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome include ankle pain, a shocking sensation, the feeling of pins and needles, or a burning sensation. Symptoms may be chronic and worsen with time, or there may be a sudden onset of symptoms. Symptoms are generally aggravated by increased activity, but some people may experience pain and numbness even during rest.

Treatment Options

If you experience ankle pain or suspect that you may suffer from tarsal tunnel syndrome, you should see a specialist who will evaluate the area. Tapping of the tibial nerve, MRIs, or other evaluation of the area can help the doctor diagnose the problem. Depending on the severity and underlying cause of the nerve compression, there are various treatment options that can help relieve pain and fix the problem. Anti-inflammatory treatments from NSAIDs and the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) to steroid injections may help. Braces and splints that immobilize the area can help you to rest the ankle and allow it to heal. Shoe orthotics may help to correct flat feet. Surgical options are also available that can release the impinging ligament, which in turn releases the compressed nerve. A less invasive surgery where the ligament is stretched instead of released may also be an option.

Left untreated, there can be many complications, not to mention severe pain. With treatment, however, the prognosis is generally good, and people experience relief from their symptoms. If you’re having pain and want to see an ankle and foot specialist in The Woodlands, TX, set up an appointment with the Ankle & Foot Specialists at 936-271-3668!

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