Originally known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or insufficiency, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity encompasses a wide range of deformities. These deformities vary in location, severity, and rate of progression. Establishing a diagnosis as early as possible is one of the most important factors in treatment. Prompt early, aggressive nonsurgical management is important. A patient in whom such treatment fails should strongly consider surgical correction to avoid worsening of the deformity. In all four stages of deformity, the goal of surgery is to achieve proper alignment and maintain as much flexibility as possible in the foot and ankle complex. However, controversy remains as to how to manage flexible deformities, especially those that are severe.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
Initially, flatfoot deformity may not present with any symptoms. However, overtime as the tendon continues to function in an abnormal position, people with fallen arches will begin to have throbbing or sharp pain along the inside of the arch. Once the tendon and soft tissue around it elongates, there is no strengthening exercises or mechanism to shorten the tendon back to a normal position. Flatfoot can also occur in one or both feet. If the arch starts to slowly collapse in one foot and not the other, posterior tibial dysfunction (PTTD) is the most likely cause. People with flatfoot may only have pain with certain activities such as running or exercise in the early phase of PTTD. Pain may start from the arch and continue towards the inside part of the foot and ankle where the tendon courses from the leg. Redness, swelling and increased warmth may also occur. Later signs of PTTD include pain on the outside of the foot from the arch collapsing and impinging other joints. Arthritic symptoms such as painful, swollen joints in the foot and ankle may occur later as well due to the increased stress on the joints from working in an abnormal position for a long period of time.
The history and physical examination are probably the most important tools the physician uses to diagnose this problem. The wear pattern on your shoes can offer some helpful clues. Muscle testing helps identify any areas of weakness or muscle impairment. This should be done in both the weight bearing and nonweight bearing positions. A very effective test is the single heel raise. You will be asked to stand on one foot and rise up on your toes. You should be able to lift your heel off the ground easily while keeping the calcaneus (heel bone) in the middle with slight inversion (turned inward). X-rays are often used to study the position, shape, and alignment of the bones in the feet and ankles. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the imaging modality of choice for evaluating the posterior tibial tendon and spring ligament complex.
Non surgical Treatment
A painless flatfoot that does not hinder your ability to walk or wear shoes requires no special treatment or orthotic device. Other treatment options depend on the cause and progression of the flatfoot. Conservative treatment options include making shoe modifications. Using orthotic devices such as arch supports and custom-made orthoses. Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen to relieve pain. Using a short-leg walking cast or wearing a brace. Injecting a corticosteroid into the joint to relieve pain. Rest and ice. Physical therapy. In some cases, surgery may be needed to correct the problem. Surgical procedures can help reduce pain and improve bone alignment.
Many operations are available for the treatment of dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon after a thorough program of non-operative treatment has failed. The type of operation that is selected is determined by the age, weight, and level of activity of the patient as well as the extent of the deformity. The clinical stages outlined previously are a useful guide to operative care (Table I). In general, the clinician should perform the least invasive procedure that will decrease pain and improve function. One should consider the effects of each procedure, particularly those of arthrodesis, on the function of the rest of the foot and ankle.