Acquired flatfoot deformity caused by dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a common clinical problem. Treatment, which depends on the severity of the symptoms and the stage of the disease, includes non-operative options, such as rest, administration of anti-inflammatory medication, and immobilization, as well as operative options, such as tendon transfer, calcaneal osteotomy, and several methods of arthrodesis.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
The symptoms of PTTD may include pain, swelling, a flattening of the arch, and an inward rolling of the ankle. As the condition progresses, the symptoms will change. For example, when PTTD initially develops, there is pain on the inside of the foot and ankle (along the course of the tendon). In addition, the area may be red, warm, and swollen. Later, as the arch begins to flatten, there may still be pain on the inside of the foot and ankle. But at this point, the foot and toes begin to turn outward and the ankle rolls inward. As PTTD becomes more advanced, the arch flattens even more and the pain often shifts to the outside of the foot, below the ankle. The tendon has deteriorated considerably and arthritis often develops in the foot. In more severe cases, arthritis may also develop in the ankle.
There are four stages of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The severity of the deformity determines your stage. For example, Stage I means there is a flatfoot position but without deformity. Pain and swelling from tendinitis is common in this stage. Stage II there is a change in the foot alignment. This means a deformity is starting to develop. The physician can still move the bones back into place manually (passively). Stage III adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) tells us there is a fixed deformity. This means the ankle is stiff or rigid and doesn???t move beyond a neutral (midline) position. Stage IV is characterized by deformity in the foot and the ankle. The deformity may be flexible or fixed. The joints often show signs of degenerative joint disease (arthritis).
Non surgical Treatment
There are many non-surgical options for the flatfoot. Orthotics, non-custom braces, shoe gear changes and custom braces are all options for treatment. A course of physical therapy may be prescribed if tendon inflammation is part of the problem. Many people are successfully treated with non-surgical alternatives.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions. (See surgical correction of adult acquired flatfoot). Patients with adult acquired flatfoot are advised to discuss thoroughly the benefits vs. risks of all surgical options. Most procedures have long-term recovery mandating that the correct procedure be utilized to give the best long-term benefit. Most flatfoot surgical procedures require six to twelve weeks of cast immobilization. Joint fusion procedures require eight weeks of non-weightbearing on the operated foot - meaning you will be on crutches for two months. The bottom line is, Make sure all of your non-surgical options have been covered before considering surgery. Your primary goals with any treatment are to eliminate pain and improve mobility. In many cases, with the properly designed foot orthosis or ankle brace, these goals can be achieved without surgical intervention.