Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment For Your Ankle Pain

If you've been experiencing foot and ankle issues, a possible diagnosis from your podiatrist may reveal tarsal tunnel syndrome. This painful foot and ankle condition may result from the tibial nerve becoming compressed against the tarsal tunnel, which is located near the ankle. It may be caused by by a foot or ankle injury, fallen arches or other factors, and should initially be diagnosed and treated by a physician. If you're unfamiliar with this condition, learn the symptoms, causes and treatment so you may find relief.

Where Is the Tarsal Tunnel Located and What is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

On the inside of your foot, running alongside your ankle bone, lies a narrow tunnel in which sensitive nerves pass through. One of these nerves is known as the tibial nerve, and if it becomes squeezed or flattened and presses against the tarsal tunnel, you may develop foot and ankle discomfort.

What Are the Symptoms of this Condition?

Tarsal tunnel syndrome may produce any of the following symptoms:

  • Burning sensation along the ankle: It may range from mild to severe.

  • A "pins and needles" feeling: The ankle or the entire foot may feel numb and tingly.

  • Dull or sharp pain: This will occur especially when standing, walking or exerting pressure on the affected foot. The pain may spread to the heel or arch of the foot. Some individuals only experience localized pain in the ankle.

How Is Tarsal Tunnel Diagnosed?

A thorough foot and ankle examination will be initiated to evaluate your case. The doctor may stretch your foot and note whether you feel pain or discomfort while doing so. He or she may press gently along the nerve to determine if loss of sensation is present. As a final measure, an x-ray or digital imaging tests may be ordered.

One of the tests may include computed tomography, commonly referred to as a CAT or CT scan. This will help provide a more detailed image of your nerves and tendons. Magnetic resonance imaging, often referred to as an MRI, will provide a clear view of bones, ligaments and tissues in your foot and ankle.

What Treatment Is Recommend for Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

In many cases, tarsal tunnel syndrome is treated without the necessity of surgery. Most commonly, your podiatrist or physician may recommend these options:

  • The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce the pain and inflammation: You may take over-the-counter medication, such as naproxin or ibuprofin, or be given a prescription. Commonly prescribed medications for inflammation include diclofenac, oxaprozin and fenoprofen.

  • The use of ice applications: This treatment may be recommended if swelling is present. Your doctor may recommend applications at 20 minute intervals a few times a day until the swelling subsides. Do not place the ice directly on your skin, as this may cause necrosis, which is commonly known as frostbite. Instead, wrap the ice in a thick cloth or towel and apply this to the affected area.

  • Staying off your feet: Resting your affected foot and ankle will help facilitate healing and reduce the risk of further damage. In addition to resting your foot, you might be told to wear a bracing device to immobilize the ankle.

  • Physical rehabilitation: Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy if he or she feels it will help you recover. Your therapy sessions may include specialized foot and ankle exercises, hot and cold therapy techniques or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). The latter utilizes a device that delivers a low voltage of electrical current to help reduce pain.

If you've been bothered by any of the above symptoms, it's best to seek a diagnosis from a professional, such as those at Advanced Foot & Ankle Center of Palatine. Do not delay in seeking medical treatment, as you could incur further damage to the tibial nerve which may be permanent.