Flatfoot deformity is a general term used to describe a person whose arches are slowly dropping to the ground, aka ?fallen arches.? Adult-acquired flatfoot deformity can be caused by several factors, but the most common is abnormal functioning of the posterior tibial tendon in the foot and ankle. The posterior tibial tendon is the primary tendon that supports the arch. If this tendon begins to elongate from a sustained, gradual stretch over a long period of time, then the arch will progressively decrease until full collapse of the arch is noted on standing. What makes this tendon elongated? Biomechanical instability of the foot such as over-pronation or an accessory bone at the insertion site of the tendon are the primary causes for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
Several risk factors are associated with PTT dysfunction, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, previous ankle surgery or trauma and exposure to steroids. A person who suspects that they are suffering from PTT dysfunction should seek medical attention earlier rather than later. It is much easier to treat early and avoid a collapsed arch than it is to repair one. When the pain first happens and there is no significant flatfoot deformity, initial treatments include rest, oral anti-inflammatory medications and, depending on the severity, a special boot or brace.
The symptom most often associated with AAF is PTTD, but it is important to see this only as a single step along a broader continuum. The most important function of the PT tendon is to work in synergy with the peroneus longus to stabilize the midtarsal joint (MTJ). When the PT muscle contracts and acts concentrically, it inverts the foot, thereby raising the medial arch. When stretched under tension, acting eccentrically, its function can be seen as a pronation retarder. The integrity of the PT tendon and muscle is crucial to the proper function of the foot, but it is far from the lone actor in maintaining the arch. There is a vital codependence on a host of other muscles and ligaments that when disrupted leads to an almost predictable loss in foot architecture and subsequent pathology.
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
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.
If conservative treatment fails surgical intervention is offered. For a Stage 1 deformity a posterior tibial tendon tenosynovectomy (debridement of the tendon) or primary repair may be indicated. For Stage 2 a combination of Achilles lengthening with bone cuts, calcaneal osteotomies, and tendon transfers is common. Stage 2 flexible PTTD is the most common stage patients present with for treatment. In Stage 3 or 4 PTTD isolated fusions, locking two or more joints together, maybe indicated. All treatment is dependent on the stage and severity at presentation with the goals and activity levels of the patient in mind. Treatment is customized to the individual patient needs.