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Posterior Tibial Tendon Pain in a Runner

Posterior Tibial Tendonitis and Tendinosis for Runners

By Dr. Christopher Segler

When you run, your foot hits the ground, you pronate to absorb impact and then you supinate to push off again.  All of this is possible because of a muscle in your leg call the tibialis posterior.  This muscle deep in the back of your leg forms a tendon call the posterior tibial tendon that attaches to your foot. It attaches to the navicular bone in the instep of your foot, right at the top of your arch.  

In the very simplest of terms, this tendon helps to hold up the arch. It is really much more complex than that, but we won’t bore you with the details. All you really need to know about this is that when you get posterior tibial tendinitis it can quickly progress and become a surgical problem. 

The good news for runners is that it one of the things that least frequently affect us. It most often affects people who are middle-aged.  It also is often associated with high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Not exactly the picture of a runner. Interestingly though, one study showed women get it four times more often than men.

This is one thing to watch out for if you have fleet feet. It seems many who get this problem are already flat-footed long before it starts.  Excess pronation (common in people with flat feet) puts tremendous stress on the tendon. Running increases the stress and strain several fold. The result is repetitive overuse that can set the condition off.

When too much stress is placed on this tendon, it can become inflamed. Continued inflammation can weaken the tendon and cause it to stretch out. This can lead to a torn or ruptured tendon with a complete collapse of the arch. Not good. 

So how do I know if have posterior tibial tendonitis?  One clue that you might be getting this problem is pain from the ankle bone to the arch on the inside of your leg. If it is inflamed and you stand up on your toes on that foot, it will likely hurt much worse. If you stand only on one leg and do this, it will be even more painful. You might even have some swelling around the ankle or arch. 

If you notice these symptoms you need to get it checked out by an foot and ankle expert. This is not one of the ice-it-and-will-go-away kind of problems. Neglecting it can (and often does) lead to surgery. It is preventable as well as easily treatable in its early stages. Orthotics can limit the force of pronation and help to decrease the risk of injury to the tendon, especially if you over-pronate or have flat feet. And as always, make sure you are wearing the right type of running shoes for your foot type. 

Dr. Christopher Segler is a marathon runner, multiple Ironman finisher and nationally recognized foot surgeon practicing Podiatry in San Francisco. His podiatric medical practice focuses on non-surgical treatment of runners and athletes in training. Because he runs and trains for Ironman events, he understands the importance of getting professional help without missing work or a workout. To help busy athletes stay on track, he offers podiatry sports medicine house calls in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you are runner with a question about foot pain, you can reach him directly at 415-308-0833 

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