While many people have heard of carpal tunnel, many are unaware of a similar sounding condition called tarsal tunnel syndrome. Affecting the joints and ligaments in the ankle, this syndrome can be painful, debilitating, and often does not resolve on its own. If your activity level is particularly high or low, you could be at risk for tarsal tunnel. Get to know the symptoms, so you know when it’s time to see a doctor.
Understanding Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a disorder that affects the tarsal tunnel, which is located inside of your ankle. Without it, your ankles wouldn’t be able to flex and move, as it serves as a collection of bones, blood vessels, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. You can think of tarsal tunnel as the carpal tunnel in your forearm—both serve similar movement purposes and are subject to the same injury risks.
Through the tarsal tunnel passes the posterior tibial nerve; if it becomes pinched or compressed, it results in tarsal tunnel syndrome. Also known as posterior tibial neuralgia, this condition can happen easily to some individuals, and the symptoms are difficult to ignore.
Symptoms of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Like many conditions, symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome vary from person to person and can be slight to extreme. While every individual is unique in what they experience, there are some common symptoms that usually indicate this condition is the problem. Those with tarsal tunnel syndrome often experience:
- Shooting pain in the foot and/or ankle
- A tingling sensation in the ankle
- Numbness in the foot and/or ankle
- A constant burning sensation in the foot and/or ankle
Most people report that symptoms tend to increase or worsen with movement, including simply walking or standing. Resting does not completely eliminate the numbness or pain, but it usually brings some relief.
One of the tricky problems with tarsal tunnel syndrome is that it doesn’t always follow a specific pattern. There are a wide variety of causes, and it can progress gradually or come on suddenly. Due to its unpredictability and symptoms that are similar to other conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose tarsal tunnel syndrome on your own.
Causes of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Since the tarsal tunnel is a complicated component of the ankle, there are many different potential reasons for injury. The painful compression might come from:
- Arthritic bone spurs
- Ganglion cysts
- Swollen tendons
- Varicose veins
There are also causes of tarsal tunnel syndrome that are less common. These include:
- Injury from sports or exercise that cause inflammation near or inside the tarsal tunnel
- Bone spurs
- Chronic arthritis
- Tumor or lesion growing inside of the tarsal tunnel
All of these cause swelling, which leads to the pinched nerve that results in pain.
Additionally, those with very low foot arches, also known as flat feet, are at a higher risk of developing tarsal tunnel syndrome. This is a result of walking incorrectly with an outward heel tilt to compensate for the lack of foot arch.
How a Podiatrist Can Help
If you think you might have tarsal tunnel syndrome, it is important to make an appointment with a qualified podiatrist right away, as lack of treatment can lead to more serious issues, including permanent nerve damage. This condition requires proper diagnosis and treatment, both of which can usually be carried out in the office.
Your podiatrist will do a thorough examination of the foot and ankle area, as well as review your medical history. If it is not easily identified through a standard physical exam, they might order a nerve conduction study or imaging like X-rays or an MRI.
There are both surgical and non-surgical treatment options for tarsal tunnel syndrome, and depending on the severity of your own unique case, you might be either scheduled for surgery or simply sent home with some home remedies.
Non-surgical treatment involves rest, ice therapy, and anti-inflammatory medication. If the injury is more severe, your podiatrist may prescribe steroid injections, physical therapy, or the use of a brace or splint to take pressure off the affected foot. Usually, most patients find relief with these measures.
If the tarsal tunnel is severely injured, your podiatrist will elect for decompression surgery or tarsal tunnel release surgery.
Are You Looking for a Foot Care in Austin, TX?
If you are looking for foot care, you should reach out to an experienced podiatrist. Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists can help. Our office provides a wide variety of advanced, effective treatment options for all kinds of painful conditions. Ready to schedule an appointment? Contact us online our Austin office at 512.328.8900.