Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that can lead to reduced movement in your foot. The tarsal tunnel is a small channel situated between the ligaments in your lower leg and your ankle bone. It contains tendons and nerves that help keep your foot flexible, but these tendons and nerves can be damaged when your foot is put under regular strain. Here's an overview of the condition.
The following are common causes:
- Swelling from a foot injury can compress the nerves in the tarsal tunnel
- Repetitive foot or ankle movements such as using a transcription pedal or regularly driving long distances
- Excessive pressure on your ankles, which can occur when you're in the later stages of pregnancy or if you are obese
- The nerves in the tarsal tunnel can become compacted if you have fallen arches
Symptoms can include:
- Pain around your ankle when you're on your feet
- Sharp pain that starts in your foot and travels up your leg
- Episodes of numbness in your foot
- A wobbly ankle, which can cause you to feel unsteady on your feet and twist your ankle easily
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your podiatrist will examine your ankle and take details of your symptoms. This is usually enough to diagnose tarsal tunnel syndrome, but they may refer you for an MRI scan if the condition doesn't seem to be improving with treatment.
The aim of treatment is to restore flexibility by releasing compacted nerves and strengthening your ankle. Treatment may include:
Medication. You may be given painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication to bring down any swelling around the tarsal tunnel, which will relieve the pressure on the nerves. Before taking any medication, do get the approval of your GP as anti-inflammatory drugs shouldn't be taken by those with certain medical conditions such as bowel disease.
Orthotic Insoles. If your physical examination identified fallen arches as the probable reason for developing tarsal tunnel syndrome, your podiatrist may measure your feet for a pair of custom-made insoles. The insoles can lift your arches, which should take the strain off your ankles.
Exercises. Your podiatrist may give you a set of ankle strengthening exercises you can do at home. These gentle exercises promote flexibility and may require the use of a resistance band. The exercises shouldn't cause any pain, so contact your podiatrist if your ankle hurts.
Surgery. Surgery is generally considered a last resort, but it is an effective way of restoring movement and releasing pressure in your ankle. The surgeon will sever the ligaments around the tarsal tunnel nerves, allowing the nerves to loosen and recover from the strain they've been under. Discuss the pros and cons of the procedure with an experienced surgeon before opting for this treatment.
If you think you could have tarsal tunnel syndrome, schedule an appointment with a clinic like Walk Without Pain for a thorough foot exam as the condition can get worse if left untreated.