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Exercises to Ease Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 12, 2020

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is the compression of an important nerve that runs through your ankle and into your foot. It’s possible to develop tarsal tunnel syndrome after spraining your ankle, overusing your feet, or developing arthritis or diabetes. You can do several exercises to reduce pain from tarsal tunnel syndrome and help your ankle heal.

Since tarsal tunnel syndrome is the result of damage or irritation in your ankle, you should be gentle with yourself while exercising it. Start tarsal tunnel exercises slowly and increase your activity as it is comfortable.

Exercises to Help Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

The goal of exercises for tarsal tunnel syndrome is to reduce pain and swelling in the ankle and help the tendons heal. Tarsal tunnel syndrome can make it hard to walk or engage in other physical activities. These exercises focus on gentle movements to reduce irritation and building strength and flexibility in the ankle. 

Calf Stretches

Calf stretches can help reduce tightness in the muscles around the ankle, relieving stress and swelling.

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Step 1: Stand facing a wall and place your palms flat against it, shoulder-width apart. 

Step 2: Step your injured leg behind you and lock that knee. Keep your heel as close to the floor as you comfortably can.

Step 3: Step forward with your other leg and bend that knee. Keep your injured heel close to the floor. You should feel a gentle stretch in the back of your injured leg. Hold this for twenty seconds, then return to a neutral position.

If both of your feet have symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome, repeat with the other leg. Do this three to five times daily.

Posterior Tibialis Heel Lifts

Your posterior tibialis tendon is an important part of your tarsal tunnel. Strengthening and stretching this tendon can help reduce swelling that causes discomfort.

Step 1: Stand in front of a chair or counter and place your hands on the back or edge.  

Step 2: Slowly rise up onto your toes, using the counter or chair as a support. Hold a “tip-toe” position for five seconds.

Step 3: Let go of your support and slowly lower back to the ground.

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Repeat this 15 times per set, for two sets a day.

Plantar Stretches

The nerves and tendons that run through your tarsal tunnel spread throughout your foot. Plantar stretches can help relieve swelling and tension from the bottom up.

Step 1: Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you, toes pointing up. 

Step 2: Wrap a towel, jump rope, or exercise band round the ball of your foot. Bend that knee and keep your toes pointing up. 

Step 3: Gently pull the top of your foot toward your body until you feel a stretch in your heel and calf. Hold for twenty seconds.

Repeat this three to five times a day with one or both legs. 

Ankle Rotations

Maintaining your range of motion is important when it comes to ankle injuries. Ankle rotations help keep your ankle flexible and able to move in all directions.

Step 1: Sit on a chair and lift your injured leg off the ground.

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Step 2: Slowly rotate your ankle clockwise five times.

Step 3: Rotate your ankle counterclockwise five times. 

If both feet have tarsal tunnel syndrome, repeat with the other leg. Do this two or three times a day until your ankles and feet feel better.

Pencil Lifts

Strengthening your foot and ankle muscles can help support the tendons inside your tarsal tunnel more effectively.

Step 1: While sitting or standing next to a counter, place a pencil on the floor in front of you. 

Step 2: With your injured foot, use your toes to pick up the pencil.

Step 3: Hold the pencil in the air for ten seconds, then release it and relax back to neutral. 

Do this three to five times every day.

Safety Considerations

Since tarsal tunnel syndrome is the result of an injury, it’s important to take it slow with tarsal tunnel exercises. Trying to do too much too quickly, before your ankle has had time to heal, could make your tarsal tunnel syndrome worse. 

No exercise should ever be painful. If you notice that any tarsal tunnel exercise makes your ankle and foot feel worse, stop it immediately. If your tarsal tunnel syndrome persists or gets worse, you should contact your physician.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “Sprains of the Ankle, Knee and Wrist: Management and Treatment.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Orthopaedic Practice: “Conservative Management of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome in a Competitive Distance Runner.”

Parker Podiatry: “Easy Exercises For Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Southwest Foot and Ankle Center: “Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome Rehabilitation Exercises.”

StatPearls: “Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.”

Summit Medical Group: “POSTERIOR TIBIAL TENDON INJURY EXERCISES.”

UC San Diego: “Exercise: The Right Program and the Right Preparation.”

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