Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Nerve Pain in the Ankle and Foot

Water travels through a straw or hose with no problem—that is, until you squeeze a little section. The tarsal tunnel is similar. It is a narrow space where the posterior tibial nerve travels along the inside of your ankle and into your foot. When this nerve is squeezed or pinched, it can cause symptoms anywhere along its path, including pain in the ankle, tingling, numbness, a burning sensation, or pain in the foot. These symptoms can come on suddenly or gradually over time due to overuse. They are typically felt on the inside of the ankle or bottom of the foot, but can also extend to the arch, heel, toes, and calf.

Tarsal tunnel syndrome and your nervesCauses of Compression

There are a number of reasons for the tunnel to become constricted and the nerve compressed. Those with flat feet, for instance, are at risk since the outward tilting of the heel—characteristic of fallen arches—puts added strain on the nerve. An injury such as an ankle sprain can produce inflammation near the tarsal tunnel. Diseases like diabetes and arthritis could cause swelling in the area as well. It is also possible that an abnormal enlargement is occupying space within the tunnel, such as a bone spur, varicose vein, a swollen tendon, or ganglion cyst.

It is extremely important to seek treatment as soon as possible to address these issues, as well as to avoid permanent nerve damage, since this is a progressive condition and will only get worse if left alone. Imaging tests can help to confirm the diagnosis, reveal the cause, and rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. Then, we’ll be able to help determine the best treatment plan for you.

Ending Nerve Pain

There are a variety of treatment options for tarsal tunnel syndrome, many of which are often used in combination. Rest is essential to recovery. Staying off of your feet will help to prevent further injury and encourage healing. You may need to immobilize the foot with a cast or brace in some cases. Taking anti-inflammatory medication— orally or by injection—as well as applying ice packs in 20 minute intervals throughout the day can ease discomfort and minimize swelling. Physical therapy, laser therapy, ultrasound and exercises can help to reduce symptoms, too. We may suggest a switch to more supportive shoes along with custom orthotics to help limit motion, support your arch, and take pressure away from the nerve. In severe cases, a surgical procedure may be necessary.

What a Pain in the Foot! (Not Any More)

Tarsal Tunnel syndrome can worsen if left untreated, and eventually cause nerve damage that cannot be reversed. If you are experiencing pain in the ankle or foot, don’t wait until the pain is unbearable and interfering with your quality of life. Contact Harvey R. Danciger, DPM for an appointment today. Just dial (760) 568-0108, or visit us online or at our Palm Desert, CA office. We’ll help alleviate your discomfort and prevent the progression of your condition, so you can get back to doing the things you love. 

Photo Credit: renjith krishnan 

Dr. Harvey Danciger
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Dr. Harvey Danciger is a podiatrist and foot surgeon in Palm Desert, CA specializing in the foot and ankle