The majority of people will experience a flattening of the arch of the feet as we age. This is a natural part of the aging process for most, as the years of abuse we put on our feet causes weakening of the soft tissue structures that support the arch of the foot and gravity dictates that the feet tend to flatten out. When flattening of one of the feet occurs rapidly over a relatively short period of time this may signal a more serious problem.
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.
PTTD begins with a gradual stretching and loss of strength of the posterior tibial tendon which is the most important tendon supporting the arch of the human foot. Left untreated, this tendon will continue to lengthen and eventually rupture, leading to a progressive visible collapse of the arch of the foot. In the early stages, patients with PTTD will notice a pain and swelling along the inner ankle and arch. Many times, they are diagnosed with ?tendonitis? of the inner ankle. If the foot and ankle are not properly supported during this early phase, the posterior tibial tendon can rupture and devastating consequences will occur to the foot and ankle structure. The progressive adult acquired flatfoot deformity will cause the heel to roll inward in a ?valgus? or pronated direction while the forefoot will rotate outward causing a ?duckfooted? walking pattern. Eventually, significant arthritis can occur in the joints of the foot, the ankle and even the knee. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical so if you have noticed that one, or both, of your feet has become flatter in recent times come in and have it checked out.
Starting from the knee down, check for any bowing of the tibia. A tibial varum will cause increased medial stress on the foot and ankle. This is essential to consider in surgical planning. Check the gastrocnemius muscle and Achilles complex via a straight and bent knee check for equinus. If the range of motion improves to at least neutral with bent knee testing of the Achilles complex, one may consider a gastrocnemius recession. If the Achilles complex is still tight with bent knee testing, an Achilles lengthening may be necessary. Check the posterior tibial muscle along its entire course. Palpate the muscle and observe the tendon for strength with a plantarflexion and inversion stress test. Check the flexor muscles for strength in order to see if an adequate transfer tendon is available. Check the anterior tibial tendon for size and strength.
Non surgical Treatment
Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is advised. If treated early enough, your symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of your condition can be arrested. In contrast, untreated PTTD could leave you with an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and increasing limitations on walking, running, or other activities. In many cases of PTTD, treatment can begin with non-surgical approaches that may include orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may provide you with an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into the shoe. Immobilization. Sometimes a short-leg cast or boot is worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal, or you may need to completely avoid all weight-bearing for a while. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may advise changes to make with your shoes and may provide special inserts designed to improve arch support.
If initial conservative therapy of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency fails, surgical treatment is considered. Operative treatment of stage 1 disease involves release of the tendon sheath, tenosynovectomy, debridement of the tendon with excision of flap tears, and repair of longitudinal tears. A short-leg walking cast is worn for 3 weeks postoperatively. Teasdall and Johnson reported complete relief of pain in 74% of 14 patients undergoing this treatment regimen for stage 1 disease. Surgical debridement of tenosynovitis in early stages is believed to possibly prevent progression of disease to later stages of dysfunction.