A variety of foot problems can lead to adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD), a condition that results in a fallen arch with the foot pointed outward. Most people - no matter what the cause of their flatfoot - can be helped with orthotics and braces. In patients who have tried orthotics and braces without any relief, surgery can be a very effective way to help with the pain and deformity. This article provides a brief overview of the problems that can result in AAFD. Further details regarding the most common conditions that cause an acquired flatfoot and their treatment options are provided in separate articles. Links to those articles are provided.
There are multiple factors contributing to the development of this problem. Damage to the nerves, ligaments, and/or tendons of the foot can cause subluxation (partial dislocation) of the subtalar or talonavicular joints. Bone fracture is a possible cause. The resulting joint deformity from any of these problems can lead to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon has always been linked with adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The loss of active and passive pull of the tendon alters the normal biomechanics of the foot and ankle. The reasons for this can be many and varied as well. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and prolonged use of steroids are some of the more common causes of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) brought on by impairment of the posterior tibialis tendon. Overstretching or rupture of the tendon results in tendon and muscle imbalance in the foot leading to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common causes. About half of all adults with this type of arthritis will develop adult flatfoot deformity over time. In such cases, the condition is gradual and progressive. Obesity has been linked with this condition. Loss of blood supply for any reason in the area of the posterior tibialis tendon is another factor. Other possible causes include bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, or a neurologic condition causing weakness.
Patients will usually describe their initial symptoms as "ankle pain", as the PT Tendon becomes painful around the inside of the ankle joint. The pain will become more intense as the foot flattens out, due to the continued stretching and tearing of the PT Tendon. As the arches continue to fall, and pronation increases, the heel bone (Calcaneus) tilts into a position where it pinches against the ankle bone (Fibula), causing pain on both the inside and outside of the ankle. As the foot spends increased time in a flattened, or deformed position, Arthritis can begin to affect the joints of the foot, causing additional pain.
Clinicians need to recognize the early stage of this syndrome which includes pain, swelling, tendonitis and disability. The musculoskeletal portion of the clinical exam can help determine the stage of the disease. It is important to palpate the posterior tibial tendon and test its muscle strength. This is tested by asking patient to plantarflex and invert the foot. Joint range of motion is should be assessed as well. Stiffness of the joints may indicate longstanding disease causing a rigid deformity. A weightbearing examination should be performed as well. A complete absence of the medial longitudinal arch is often seen. In later stages the head of the talus bone projects outward to the point of a large "lump" in the arch. Observing the patient's feet from behind shows a significant valgus rotation of the heel. From behind, the "too many toes" sign may be seen as well. This is when there is abducution of the forefoot in the transverse plane allowing the toes to be seen from behind. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon can be assessed by asking the patient to stand on his/her toes on the affected foot. If they are unable to, this indicates the disease is in a more advanced stage with the tendon possibly completely ruptured.
Non surgical Treatment
Medical or nonoperative therapy for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction involves rest, immobilization, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, orthotics, and bracing. This treatment is especially attractive for patients who are elderly, who place low demands on the tendon, and who may have underlying medical problems that preclude operative intervention. During stage 1 posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, pain, rather than deformity, predominates. Cast immobilization is indicated for acute tenosynovitis of the posterior tibial tendon or for patients whose main presenting feature is chronic pain along the tendon sheath. A well-molded short leg walking cast or removable cast boot should be used for 6-8 weeks. Weight bearing is permitted if the patient is able to ambulate without pain. If improvement is noted, the patient then may be placed in custom full-length semirigid orthotics. The patient may then be referred to physical therapy for stretching of the Achilles tendon and strengthening of the posterior tibial tendon. Steroid injection into the posterior tibial tendon sheath is not recommended due to the possibility of causing a tendon rupture. In stage 2 dysfunction, a painful flexible deformity develops, and more control of hindfoot motion is required. In these cases, a rigid University of California at Berkley (UCBL) orthosis or short articulated ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is indicated. Once a rigid flatfoot deformity develops, as in stage 3 or 4, bracing is extended above the ankle with a molded AFO, double upright brace, or patellar-tendon-bearing brace. The goals of this treatment are to accommodate the deformity, prevent or slow further collapse, and improve walking ability by transferring load to the proximal leg away from the collapsed medial midfoot and heel.
For more chronic flatfoot pain, surgical intervention may be the best option. Barring other serious medical ailments, surgery is a good alternative for patients with a serious problem. There are two surgical options depending on a person?s physical condition, age and lifestyle. The first type of surgery involves repair of the PTT by transferring of a nearby tendon to help re-establish an arch and straighten out the foot. After this surgery, patients wear a non-weight bearing support boot for four to six weeks. The other surgery involves fusing of two or three bones in the hind foot below the ankle. While providing significant pain relief, this option does take away some hind foot side-to-side motion. Following surgery, patients are in a cast for three months. Surgery is an effective treatment to address adult-acquired flatfoot, but it can sometimes be avoided if foot issues are resolved early. That is why it is so important to seek help right away if you are feeling ankle pain. But perhaps the best way to keep from becoming flatfooted is to avoid the risk factors altogether. This means keeping your blood pressure, weight and diabetes in check.