Foot pain: tarsal tunnel syndrome or plantar fasciitis?

by | May 11, 2023

Tarsal tunnel syndrome and plantar fasciitis are both conditions that affect the foot and can cause pain and discomfort. However, they have distinct causes, symptoms, and treatment approaches. Let’s compare them:

Definition and Causes:

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Tarsal tunnel syndrome occurs when the posterior tibial nerve becomes compressed or trapped as it passes through a narrow tunnel on the inside of the ankle, called the tarsal tunnel. This compression can be caused by various factors, including anatomical abnormalities, trauma, overuse, or systemic conditions like diabetes.

Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, connecting the calcaneus (heel bone) to the toes. It is commonly caused by repetitive strain, excessive foot pronation (flattening of the arch), tight calf muscles, or poor footwear.


Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Symptoms include pain, tingling, burning, or numbness in the ankle, heel, arch, or sole of the foot. Pain may radiate to the toes or up the leg. Symptoms may worsen with activity or prolonged standing.

Plantar Fasciitis: The hallmark symptom is intense heel pain, particularly with the first few steps in the morning or after rest. The pain is often described as a stabbing sensation at the bottom of the heel. It may also be accompanied by stiffness, inflammation, or pain along the arch of the foot.


Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Diagnosis involves examination and detailed medical history, the physical examination including Tinel’s sign, and sometimes electrodiagnostic tests like nerve conduction studies (NCS) are useful.

Plantar Fasciitis: Diagnosis is typically based on a physical examination, where tenderness along the plantar fascia is observed.


Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Conservative treatments include rest, immobilisation, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and modification of activities. In cases of severe or refractory symptoms, surgical decompression of the tarsal tunnel may be warranted.

Plantar Fasciitis: Initial treatment focuses on conservative measures, including rest, stretching exercises, physical therapy, orthotic devices, footwear modifications. Night splints or specialised footwear may be recommended.


Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the prognosis for tarsal tunnel syndrome is generally favorable. Most patients experience improvement in symptoms and functional recovery.

Plantar Fasciitis: The majority of plantar fasciitis cases respond well to conservative treatments. However, some individuals may experience persistent symptoms or recurrent flare-ups, requiring ongoing management and lifestyle modifications.


In summary, while tarsal tunnel syndrome and plantar fasciitis both involve foot pain, they have distinct causes and require different treatment approaches. Proper diagnosis by a healthcare professional is essential to develop an appropriate management plan tailored to the individual’s condition.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *