The adult acquired flatfoot (AAF) is a progressive, symptomatic (painful) deformity resulting from gradual stretch (attenuation) of the tibialis posterior tendon as well as the ligaments that support the arch of the foot. Although the posterior tibialis tendon plays a significant role, this pathology has recently been recognized as involving failure of other interosseous ligaments, such as the spring ligament. Due to the complexity of this pathology, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is now referred to as adult acquired flatfoot. Severe flatfoot associated with AAF can lead to other problems, such as plantar fascial tension, tendon pain, rearfoot subluxation, and ankle osteoarthritis
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 types of symptoms that may indicate Adult-Acquired Flat Foot Deformity include foot pain that worsens over time, loss of the arch, abnormal shoe wear (excessive wearing on the inner side of shoe from walking on the inner side of the foot) and an awkward appearance of the foot and ankle (when viewed from behind, heel and toes appear to go out to the side). It is important that we help individuals recognize the early symptoms of this condition, as there are many treatment options, depending upon the severity, the age of the patient, and the desired activity levels.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise. A patient is asked to step with full body weight on the symptomatic foot, keeping the unaffected foot off the ground. The patient is then instructed to “raise up on the tip toes” of the affected foot. If the posterior tibial tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, the patient will be unable to lift the heel off the floor and rise onto the toes. In less severe cases, the patient will be able to rise on the toes, but the heel will not be noted to invert as it normally does when we rise onto the toes. X-rays can be helpful but are not diagnostic of the adult acquired flatfoot. Both feet – the symptomatic and asymptomatic – will demonstrate a flatfoot deformity on x-ray. Careful observation may show a greater severity of deformity on the affected side.
Non surgical Treatment
Conservative (nonoperative) care is advised at first. A simple modification to your shoe may be all that???s needed. Sometimes purchasing shoes with a good arch support is sufficient. For other patients, an off-the-shelf (prefabricated) shoe insert works well. The orthotic is designed specifically to position your foot in good alignment. Like the shoe insert, the orthotic fits inside the shoe. These work well for mild deformity or symptoms. Over-the-counter pain relievers or antiinflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may be helpful. If symptoms are very severe, a removable boot or cast may be used to rest, support, and stabilize the foot and ankle while still allowing function. Patients with longer duration of symptoms or greater deformity may need a customized brace. The brace provides support and limits ankle motion. After several months, the brace is replaced with a foot orthotic. A physical therapy program of exercise to stretch and strengthen the foot and leg muscles is important. The therapist will also show you how to improve motor control and proprioception (joint sense of position). These added features help prevent and reduce injuries.
Surgery should only be done if the pain does not get better after a few months of conservative treatment. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the PTTD disease. It it also dictated by where tendonitis is located and how much the tendon is damaged. Surgical reconstruction can be extremely complex. Some of the common surgeries include. Tenosynovectomy, removing the inflamed tendon sheath around the PTT. Tendon Transfer, to augment the function of the diseased posterior tibial tendon with a neighbouring tendon. Calcaneo-osteotomy, sometimes the heel bone needs to be corrected to get a better heel bone alignment. Fusion of the Joints, if osteoarthritis of the foot has set in, fusion of the joints may be necessary.