Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

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Have you ever noticed tingling or numbness in your foot sole or ignored the pain in your ankle? There are chances that you are suffering from tarsal tunnel syndrome. Like sciatica, this syndrome is very common and is caused by the compression of a nerve that is basically an extension of the sciatic nerve.

The tarsal tunnel is a part of our body and tarsal tunnel syndrome is the condition in which the tarsal tunnel causes pain and numbness in the foot area. In this article, Pillars of Wellness will give you a detailed description of this condition and the proposed treatments that have helped prior patients.

Tarsal tunnel:

Before skipping to the part where the condition is explained, it is vital that you understand what the tarsal tunnel is and how its anatomy works. The tarsal tunnel is a narrow tunnel that is present beside the ankle bone. It is a small opening for the passing of the sciatic nerve extension along with other nerves.

This tunnel and the nerves inside it are protected by a thick ligament. This ligament is also responsible for keeping the structure of the ankle intact. One of the nerves protected by this ligament is a posterior tibial nerve that is affected by the syndrome and causes the pain and numbness.

What is tarsal tunnel syndrome?

The posterior tibial nerve, as mentioned above is the main focus of this syndrome. When one suffers from tarsal tunnel syndrome, the posterior tibial nerve is compressed or squeezed due to any kind of pressure or force. Since this nerve is an extension of the sciatic nerve which passes through the thigh, knee and the calf, the compression can cause symptoms anywhere in the path mentioned. According to Washington university’s medical school initially, the only symptoms along the path are numbness and tingling that come and go without any regular pattern.


Any mechanism that causes or results in the compression of the posterior tibial nerve can cause the tarsal tunnel syndrome. The most common causes found by the physicians are:

  • Structural problems in the patient’s foot such as a flat food can cause this disorder. The tilting of the foot abnormally causes pressure and force on the nerve.
  • Inflammation or structures in the ankle that occupy more space than required can produce unnecessary pressure on the nerve causing the tarsal tunnel syndrome. This structure can be a cyst, tumor, inflamed tendon or even a bone spur.
  • Injuries that cause the ankle to sprain or move in awkward positions might result in the compression of the nerve.
  • Diseases like diabetes, arthritis etc. that cause inflammation in feet. This inflammation can result in the compression of the nerve.
  • Varicose veins are a common cause of the tarsal tunnel syndrome especially if they are present in the area around the ankle.

Unlike other syndromes and disorders, tarsal tunnel syndrome only has a few symptoms that are seen in all the patients. It starts with a slight burning or tingling sensation in the ankle, foot sole, and calf but all individuals don’t witness similar symptoms. Some feel the tingling sensation in just one spot while the others might feel it in the complete leg.

After the tingling comes the numbness sensation where the patient feels like their leg is going lifeless and moving it around becomes difficult. During this stage, the pain starts surfacing as well. This pain can be isolated pain or can be shooting pain that is felt in the nerve throughout the leg.

Two persons never have the same symptoms. Some folks have symptoms appearing in stages while others face all the symptoms together. The important thing is getting a detailed checkup as soon as the symptoms start appearing.


The first course of treatment that is given to any patient suffering from tarsal tunnel syndrome is the process of resting and physical therapy at home.

For chronic patients that don’t get better aftercare and physical therapy, surgery is the last resort. Common ways that are seeking to treat the tarsal tunnel syndrome are:

  • Resting: this is the most convenient and easy way to get rid of inflammation in the ankle or as a matter of fact in any part of the body. Walking and moving around produces more pressure on the ankle and hence, results in force and pressure on the tibial nerve. Thus, resting is extremely important for curing the tarsal tunnel syndrome. In chronic cases, complete bed rest is suggested.
  • Ice treatment: application of ice pack for 20 mins several times a day is suggested to reduce the inflammation. Also, it is advised the foot is elevated at the time of application of the ice pack.
  • Elevation: keeping he foot elevated above the level of the heart is another treatment that is given by the doctor. This prevents the excessive blood flow and reduces the inflammation which removes the pressure from the tibial nerve.
  • Immobilization: this is only advised to patients who are suffering from an advanced level of the tarsal tunnel syndrome or people who are obese. In these two cases, not even a slight pressure is allowed to reach the tibial nerve.
  • Physical therapy: hot and cold treatment along with proper exercises and pressure releasing movements, the tarsal tunnel syndrome can be eliminated permanently without any chance of recurrence. The exercises include slow stretching and movement exercises.

A case study of tarsal tunnel syndrome treated via physical therapy:

This case study is obtained from the Canadian chiropractic association and is about a 61 years old female who complained about regular pain in her foot along with a burning sensation. The pain did not shoot up from the foot and was consistent for six months. With a complete chiropractic and physical therapy treatment for 10 weeks, the patient was seen with favorable results.

Although the patient did not come for regular follow-ups, a follow-up session was conducted 10 months after the sessions were concluded. The patient did not report any relapse pain or burning sensation and was happy with the results.

Contact us if you feel any pain, discomfort or just wish to receive more information.