Dr. thomas mcdonald patient after foot and ankle surgery

Ankle Nerve Compression – Treating Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Nerve compression tends to be more common in areas like your shoulder or spine because of the amount of nerves in these areas that have to pass through small spaces, but they’re certainly not the only places where nerve impingement occurs. Nerve irritation or compression can also happen in our extremities, and when it happens to a specific nerve in your foot, it is called tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS). Tarsal tunnel syndrome can lead to pain and discomfort with each step, and since it isn’t likely to resolve without proactive treatment, it’s imperative that you connect with a foot specialist if you suspect that you’re dealing with a nerve issue in your foot. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at how tarsal tunnel syndrome develops and how Dr. McDonald can help you overcome the issue.

Causes and Symptoms Of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tibial nerve in the ankle becomes compressed. Your tibial nerve is a branch of your much larger sciatic nerve, which runs from your lower back all the way down each leg and into the foot. On its way to your foot, the nerve passes just below the bony bump on the inner side of your ankle through a small space aptly called the tarsal tunnel. If an issue causes this tunnel opening to shrink, nerve irritation and tarsal tunnel syndrome can develop.

Some of the most common causes and risk factors for tarsal tunnel syndrome onset include:

  • Foot shape changes (flat feet, fallen arches)
  • Acute injury
  • Repetitive stress
  • Formation of non-cancerous ganglion cysts in the area
  • Being overweight
  • Underlying health conditions like diabetes or poor circulation

Symptoms will vary based on the extent of the tibial nerve compression, but many patients with TTS experience symptoms like pain, discomfort, numbness, tingling, or burning in the feet and toes. Most patients say that their symptoms tend to worsen with activity or increased stress on their feet.

Treating Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment will be focused on calming the irritated nerve in the short-term while also working to address the underlying cause of compression so that symptoms don’t return. In many instances, patients will be advised to rest the area and take some anti-inflammatory medications. This can help to manage inflammation and nerve irritation, but your doctor will also eventually want to target the larger issue. A physical examination and imaging tests can help to pinpoint why tarsal tunnel syndrome has developed and the best way to manage it in the long term.

Additional treatment techniques will be based on your individual needs. For example, if foot shape changes or arthritic degeneration is to blame, your doctor may recommend generic or custom orthotics to provide more support to your foot while it’s in a shoe. Weight loss and activity modification may also be helpful for these types of patients.

If unresolved trauma or a ganglion cyst is causing the compression, more hands-on care may be recommended. Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections or physical therapy to address the unresolved damage or to help strengthen the ankle complex so that it can better handle the stress you put on it without irritating nerves. In other cases, a minimally invasive debridement or decompression procedure may be needed to remove offending cysts or widen the tarsal tunnel so that the nerve can pass through the area unimpeded. These procedures have a high rate of success, but most patients can successfully manage their tarsal tunnel issue without the need for an operation.

For more information about tarsal tunnel syndrome or for help with a different foot or ankle issue, reach out to Dr. McDonald and his team today at (860) 244-8889.

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