Tarsal Coalition in Adults & Children

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Tarsal coalition is a disorder of the feet in which two or more bones that should not be attached begin to grow together. The bones can be connected by newly formed bone tissue or by cartilage or fibrous tissue that is similar to a ligament. A podiatrist will offer diagnosis and treatment of tarsal coalition so that you can move without pain and perform all of the activities that you need and want to do.

Symptoms of Tarsal Coalition

Children are diagnosed with tarsal coalition more frequently than adults. This is due to the rapid rate of bone development and ossification in children. One or both feet can be affected by tarsal coalition. Once ossification of the coalesced bones is complete, a child may begin to experience pain in that area of the foot. The foot may feel stiff and may not have a full range of motion. Some kids may develop a limp. Compensating by putting more weight on the other foot may lead to ankle rolling and frequent ankle sprains.

What Causes Tarsal Coalition?

Tarsal coalition results from a genetic mutation that can be inherited from your parents. In most people, the coalition begins during fetal development and continues throughout the early childhood years. As the foot bones grow longer and ossify, they also grow toward one another. In most cases, the condition is not noticed until a child is at least eight years old, which is around the time that the tarsal bones start the ossification process.

Diagnosing Tarsal Coalition

A foot doctor might diagnose tarsal coalition by performing a physical exam and having you perform certain movements with your feet. You may also have X-rays, CT scans, or MRI studies done to pinpoint the exact location of the coalition. These imaging studies also show whether it is bone, cartilage, or fibrous tissue connecting the tarsal bones.

Tarsal Coalition Treatment Options

Your podiatrist will likely initiate conservative treatment for the early stages of tarsal coalition or for pain that is mild. These conservative treatments include rest, ice, and elevation of the affected foot. Steroid injections may provide some temporary relief of pain. A temporary cast or walking boot also helps to relieve pressure on the foot. Customized orthotic inserts help to align and cushion the bones of your feet. In some cases, surgery is needed. Surgery can remove the excess bone tissue, cartilage, or fibrous tissue causing the coalition.

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