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What is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

tarsal tunnelThe tarsal tunnel of your foot is the canal formed by part of your ankle bone (the medial malleolus, which is the bump on the inside of your ankle) and a band of ligaments that stretch across the foot known as the flexor retinaculum. This canal contains a number of arteries, nerves and tendons that allow for the movement and flexibility of your foot. One of these nerves is the tibial nerve. The tibial nerve allow of feeling in the bottom of your foot. When this nerve becomes compressed, you are likely to find yourself with a diagnosis of tarsal tunnel syndrome.

What causes tarsal tunnel syndrome?

There are a number of reasons why this condition occurs, including:

  •  Being flat footed or having fallen arches.
  •  Ankle swelling; often the result of a strain or sprain.
  • Having arthritis or diabetes.
  •  Abnormal bone structure or other abnormal structures include bone spurs, ganglion cysts, varicose veins or swollen tendons.

What are the symptoms of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

If you have tarsal tunnel syndrome, you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Burning or tingling of the foot.
  • Sharp, shooting pains in the foot.
  • Numbness of the foot.

How is this condition diagnosed?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome, it is important to remember that only a doctor can diagnose this condition. Depending upon your insurance, you may need to see your primary care physician for referral to a specialist for treatment. Often times, a podiatrist or neurologist can help diagnose and treat tarsal tunnel syndrome.
Diagnosis will include:

  •  A physical exam of your foot and ankle
  • Complete medical history
  • An EMG or Nerve Conduction Study.
  • An x-ray or special imaging test (CT scan or MRI)

Treating Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment for tarsal tunnel syndrome can vary dependent upon the severity of your symptoms. Surgical and non-surgical options are available if you receive a diagnosis of tarsal tunnel syndrome. Most specialists will recommend a more conservative approach to treating this condition before scheduling surgery. Treatment options include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections to help relieve swelling and pressure in the joint.
  • Braces, splints or special orthotic devices to help reduce pressure on the foot and limit mobility to help reduce nerve compression.
  • Surgery. A tarsal tunnel release is often used when conservative measures fail. This helps to relieve the compression of the tibial nerve.
  •  Physical therapy. Physical therapy is often use as a post-operative measure to help individuals who have undergone a tarsal tunnel release regain mobility, strength and balance in the affected foot. When undergoing surgery for tarsal tunnel syndrome, you should expect to spend a week or two using crutches or another form of assistive device. For up to two weeks, you will be non-weightbearing.

It is important to remember that each person is different. Only a physician can determine if you have tarsal tunnel syndrome and which treatment options are best for you.

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