Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD), embraces a wide spectrum of deformities. AAFD is a complex pathology consisting both of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency and failure of the capsular and ligamentous structures of the foot. Each patient presents with characteristic deformities across the involved joints, requiring individualized treatment. Early stages may respond well to aggressive conservative management, yet more severe AAFD necessitates prompt surgical therapy to halt the progression of the disease to stages requiring more complex procedures. We present the most current diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to AAFD, based on the most pertinent literature and our own experience and investigations.
As discussed above, many different problems can create a painful flatfoot. Damage to the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of AAFD. The posterior tibial tendon is one of the most important tendons of the leg. It starts at a muscle in the calf, travels down the inside of the lower leg and attaches to the bones on the inside of the foot. The main function of this tendon is to support the arch of your foot when you walk. If the tendon becomes inflamed or torn, the arch will slowly collapse. Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop problems with the posterior tibial tendon. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Having flat feet since childhood increases the risk of developing a tear in the posterior tibial tendon. In addition, people who are involved in high impact sports, such as basketball, tennis, or soccer, may have tears of the tendon from repetitive use. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch. An injury to the tendons or 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. Injuries to tendons of the foot can occur either in one instance (traumatically) or with repeated use over time (overuse injury). Regardless of the cause, if tendon function is altered, the forces that are transmitted across joints in the foot are changed and this can lead to increased stress on joint cartilage and ligaments. In addition to tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with nerve problems that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have collapse of the arch or of the entire foot. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.
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.
Looking at the patient when they stand will usually demonstrate a flatfoot deformity (marked flattening of the medial longitudinal arch). The front part of the foot (forefoot) is often splayed out to the side. This leads to the presence of a ?too many toes? sign. This sign is present when the toes can be seen from directly behind the patient. The gait is often somewhat flatfooted as the patient has the dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon can no longer stabilize the arch of the foot. The physician?s touch will often demonstrate tenderness and sometimes swelling over the inside of the ankle just below the bony prominence (the medial malleolus). There may also be pain in the outside aspect of the ankle. This pain originates from impingement or compression of two tendons between the outside ankle bone (fibula) and the heel bone (calcaneus) when the patient is standing.
Non surgical Treatment
Treatment will vary depending on the degree of your symptoms. Generally, we would use a combination of rest, immobilization, orthotics, braces, and physical therapy to start. The goal is to keep swelling and inflammation under control and limit the stress on the tendon while it heals. Avoidance of activities that stress the tendon will be necessary. Once the tendon heals and you resume activity, physical therapy will further strengthen the injured tendon and help restore flexibility. Surgery may be necessary if the tendon is torn or does not respond to these conservative treatment methods. Your posterior tibial tendon is vital for normal walking. When it is injured in any way, you risk losing independence and mobility. Keep your foot health a top priority and address any pain or problems quickly. Even minor symptoms could progress into chronic problems, so don?t ignore your foot pain.
For those patients with PTTD that have severe deformity or have not improved with conservative treatments, surgery may be necessary to return them to daily activity. Surgery for PTTD may include repair of the diseased tendon and possible tendon transfer to a nearby healthy tendon, surgery on the surrounding bones or joints to prevent biomechanical abnormalities that may be a contributing factor or both.