Tarsal Tunnel Release

Tarsal tunnel release is a surgical procedure that relieves pressure from the tibial nerve. The tibial nerve passes through the tarsal tunnel on the bony bump on the inside of the ankle. The tibial nerve can become compressed and damaged, leading to pain, numbness, and loss of balance.

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What You Need to Know About Tarsal Tunnel Release

What is Tarsal Tunnel Release?

Tarsal tunnel release is a procedure in which a doctor performs a nerve decompression—also referred to as neurolysis—to relieve pressure from the tibial nerve and allow for proper blood flow. The procedure includes making a small incision along the inner ankle and bottom of the foot. Performing a tarsal tunnel release can reduce pain and restore feeling and movement in the foot and ankle.

Why is Tarsal Tunnel Release Performed?

The tibial nerve can become permanently damaged if it is compressed for a sustained period. A doctor may opt for tarsal tunnel release if the patient experiences the following symptoms:

  • Pain and numbness in the affected foot

  • Numbness that lasts hours

  • Sleep disturbance caused by numbness

  • Trouble pressing the gas or brake pedals

  • Loss of balance

  • Neurosensory testing shows degeneration of nerves

Doctors may suggest tarsal tunnel release if non-surgical treatments have failed to improve the condition. Non-surgical treatments include:

  • Resting the foot

  • Immobilizing the ankle

  • Taking anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and swelling

What Happens During Tarsal Tunnel Release?

Tarsal tunnel release is an outpatient procedure that lasts about one hour. The surgeon will perform the following during the procedure:

Preparation: Patients receive general anesthesia. The surgeon makes a small incision on the inner ankle to expose the flexor retinaculum, a band of fibrous tissue that forms the tarsal tunnel's outer wall.

Releasing the nerve: The surgeon cuts along the nerve path, allowing the tissue to stretch and creating more space inside the tarsal tunnel. This increase in space relieves pressure on the tibial nerve. The surgeon will also examine the two main branches of the tibial nerve that travel to the heel and determine whether they also need compression relief.

Procedure conclusion: The surgeon closes the incision and bandages the foot. Patients may wear a splint or postoperative shoe. The medical staff will monitor the patient to ensure they can return home and will provide recovery instructions.

Are There Risks Associated with Tarsal Tunnel Release?

Every surgical procedure presents potential complications. Issues that may arise from tarsal tunnel release include possibly further damaging the nerve and failure to release the flexor retinaculum. Surgeons can easily minimize these risks through proper preparation, meticulous dissection of the tissue, and careful examination of the tibial nerve.

Post Tarsal Tunnel Release & Recovery

Tarsal tunnel release is an outpatient procedure. Patients are released following a 1-2 hour recovery period. The ankle is wrapped in a large, soft bandage to protect the area.

Patients can take pain relievers—including Tylenol, Motrin, or ibuprofen—and apply partial weight to the foot. One week after the procedure, patients can remove the bandage and resume full walking activity. Patients can run after six weeks.

Patients often experience immediate relief of pain, numbness, and other symptoms. Patients with severe cases may have a more gradual relief of symptoms over several months.

Resurgens Foot and Ankle Center specialists use state-of-the-art technology to treat various conditions. Schedule an appointment at one of our Metro Atlanta locations today.

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