I was talking to a patient last week who was curious to know more about Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. He’s an active athlete, and after perusing the internet had seen this term come up when looking up a few of his symptoms. I answered his questions and decided to share them with you, too!
What is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?
You may not know it, but you have a very important nerve around your ankle on the inside part of the foot. It is called the Posterior Tibial Nerve. To protect it as it runs by the ankle, the nerve passes through a series of ligaments that form a sort of tunnel. Once it gets past the ankle it splits into 3 smaller nerves that run through the heel and the bottom of the foot. These are the nerves that give sensation to the skin in these areas of your foot. However, if the Posterior Tibial Nerve becomes harmed and inflated, the protective tunnel can squeeze the nerve. As the nerve gets compressed it can’t function. As a result, you’ll start to feel symptoms in the foot that can range from a mild numbness to an intense pain. Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is quite similar to a complication many people experience in the hands and wrists–Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
How do you get Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome is usually experienced by active adults and normally doesn’t present in young children. Nerves are quite responsive to change. When a nerve like the Posterior Tibial is squeezed or flattened in some way, it is unable to transfer information from the foot to the brain in the way it is used to. Simply put, neurological impulses are cut off. This leads to pain, tingling, and a burning feeling. So, what might be causing the compression? Many times, it is caused by a neighboring muscle that increases in size or scar tissue.
Individuals with flat feet often develop Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome because their flattened arch causes strain on muscles and nerves around the ankle, leading to the offending compression on the Tibial Nerve.
Another cause quite common amongst active adults is past ankle trauma. When an ankle fracture heals, fibrous tissue forms–this is known as scar tissue. If an excess amount of scar tissue forms, it can actually limit movement within the tarsal tunnel and cause Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.
Finally, some patients develop overgrown and injured veins that wrap around the Posterior Tibial Nerve. These veins begin to swell up right after exercise or any physical activity, strangling the nerve. This is why many of our patients with Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome report feeling symptoms the worst right after they exercise.
Are you experiencing tingling, burning, numbness or pain on the inside of your ankle or the bottom of the foot? If so, we encourage you to make an appointment. It is very important to seek early treatment. Proper evaluation is essential so that a correct diagnosis can be made, and appropriate treatment initiated. The doctors at Rocky Mountain Foot & Ankle can help you get back on your feet!