Most people are familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome, where a major nerve gets so compressed that it causes incredible pain down your wrist, hand and fingers. But what about the pain in your foot? Is it the same kind of thing?
What is tarsal tunnel syndrome?
The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space on the inside of the ankle next to the anklebones. A thick ligament wraps around the tunnel to protect the arteries, veins, tendons and nerves inside. Similar to carpal tunnel, tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS) is a disorder caused by damage to the tibial nerve, a branch of the sciatic nerve, which runs through this tunnel.
When you have TTS, your tarsal tunnel is compressed, sometimes from an abnormal structure or mass that forms (enlarged varicose vein, ganglion cyst, swollen tendon or bone spur), having flat feet or arches, swelling from a sprained ankle, arthritis or diabetes. The nerves, arteries and tendons of the tunnel provide movement and flexibility to your foot, so when there’s an obstruction or too much pressure, simple activity like standing and walking is really difficult.
You might experience burning or tingling sensations in the area or pain in your foot, ankle and/or heel.
What are the symptoms?
You can develop TTS suddenly, with a sharp, shooting pain along the nerve, or it can be more gradual. The pain often radiates to other areas of the foot, ankle, heel or even up the calf, so it can be difficult to figure out exactly where it’s really coming from. Another symptom can be burning, tingling (i.e. pins and needles) or even numbness.
Resting the foot, applying ice and taking anti-inflammatory medication can relieve some of your pain and reduce inflammation. However, if your condition persists without further treatment, the pain can stay even when you’re resting and—this is the worst—keep you up at night.
What are the treatment options?
Beyond the basics, orthotics like braces, splints or custom-molded shoe inserts have also been shown to help those with TTS by correcting and stabilizing the position of the foot to minimize pressure on the nerve. Those with flat feet or fallen arches find these especially effective to support the arch and prevent pronation (when the foot rolls inward), which can stretch the nerve. A physiotherapist can help you find the right fit.
Want to know if the pain in your foot is something more serious, like tarsal tunnel syndrome? Contact a clinic near you for an assessment today!