Tarsal tunnel syndrome-A narrative literature review

Foot (Edinb). 2015 Dec;25(4):244-50. doi: 10.1016/j.foot.2015.08.008. Epub 2015 Sep 12.


Background: Tarsal tunnel syndrome is classified as a focal compressive neuropathy of the posterior tibial nerve or one of its associated branches individually or collectively. The tunnel courses deep to fascia, the flexor retinaculum and within the abductor hallucis muscle of the foot/ankle. The condition is rare and regularly under-diagnosed leading to a range of symptoms affecting the plantar margins of the foot. There are many intervention strategies for treating tarsal tunnel syndrome with limited robust evidence to guide the clinical management of this condition. The role of conservative versus surgical interventions at various stages of the disease process remains unclear, and there is a need for a structured, step-wise approach in treating patients with this syndrome based on derived empirical evidence. This narrative review attempts to scrutinize the literature to date by clarifying initial presentation, investigations and definitive treatment for the purpose of assisting future informed clinical decision and prospective research endeavours.

Process: The literature searches that have been incorporated in compiling a rigorous review of this condition have included: the Cochrane Neuromuscular Group's Specialized Register (Cochrane Library 2013), the databases of EMBASE, AMED, MEDLINE, CINAHL, Physiotherapy evidence database (PEDRO), Biomed Central, Science Direct and Trip Database (1972 to the present). Reference listings of located articles were also searched and scrutinized. Authors and experts within the field of lower-limb orthopaedics were contacted to discuss applicable data. Subject-specific criteria searches utilizing the following key terms were performed across all databases: tarsal tunnel syndrome, tibial neuralgia, compression neuropathy syndromes, tibial nerve impingement, tarsal tunnel neuropathy, entrapment tibial nerve, posterior tibial neuropathy. These search strategies were modified with differing databases, adopting specific sensitivity-searching tools and functions unique to each. This search strategy identified 88 journal articles of relevance for this narrative literature review.

Findings: This literature review has appraised the clinical significance of tarsal tunnel syndrome, whilst assessing varied management interventions (non-surgical and surgical) for the treatment of this condition in both adults and children. According to our review, there is limited high-level robust evidence to guide and refine the clinical management of tarsal tunnel syndrome. Requirements for small-scaled randomized controlled trials in groups with homogenous aetiology are needed to analyse the effectiveness of specific treatment modalities.

Conclusions: It is necessary that further research endeavours be pursued for the clinical understanding, assessment and treatment of tarsal tunnel syndrome. Accordingly, a structured approach to managing patients who have been correctly diagnosed with this condition should be formulated on the basis of empirical evidence where possible.

Keywords: Compression neuropathy syndromes; Entrapment tibial nerve; Tarsal tunnel neuropathy; Tarsal tunnel syndrome; Tibial nerve impingement; Tibial neuralgia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Orthopedic Procedures / methods*
  • Prognosis
  • Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome / therapy*
  • Tibial Nerve / injuries*
  • Tibial Nerve / physiopathology