What Is the Tarsal Tunnel?
The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space that lies on the inside of the ankle next to the ankle bones. The tunnel is covered with a thick ligament (the flexor retinaculum) that protects and maintains the structures contained within the tunnel—arteries, veins, tendons, and nerves. One of these structures is the posterior tibial nerve, which is the focus of tarsal tunnel syndrome.
What Is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is a compression, or squeezing, on the posterior tibial nerve that produces symptoms anywhere along the path of the nerve. The posterior tibial nerve runs along the inside of the ankle into the foot.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, which occurs in the wrist. Both disorders arise from the compression of a nerve in a confined space. Although tarsal tunnel syndrome may not be as well-known as carpal tunnel syndrome, it is nevertheless a cause of foot and ankle pain in adults.
Patients with tarsal tunnel syndrome experience one or more of the following symptoms:
The symptoms are typically felt on the inside of the ankle and/or on the bottom of the foot. In some people, a symptom may be isolated and occur in just one spot. In others, it may extend to the heel, arch, toes, and even the calf.
Sometimes the symptoms of the syndrome appear suddenly. Often they are brought on or aggravated by overuse of the foot—such as in prolonged standing, walking, exercising, or beginning a new exercise program.
It is very important to seek early treatment if any of the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome occur. If left untreated, the condition may progress and result in permanent nerve damage. In addition, because the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome can be confused with other conditions, proper evaluation is essential so that correct diagnosis can be made.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by anything that produces compression on the posterior tibial nerve, such as:
Courtesy of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.