Often considered solely a product of genetics, flatfoot rarely carries with it the stigma of presenting over time. The truth, however, is that flatfoot does not discriminate on the basis of age and can become an issue in the form of adult-acquired flatfoot. Like its congenital cousin, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity is one that, in causing structural damage to the foot (and particularly to the posterior tibial tendon), creates an imbalance that may result in any number of symptoms, including inflammation, pain, stiffness, limited mobility, and even arthritis.
Flat feet causes greater pressure on the posterior tibial tendon than normal. As the person with flat feet ages, the muscles, tendons and ligaments weaken. Blood supplies diminish as arteries narrow. These conditions are magnified for obese patients because of their increased weight and atherosclerosis. Finally, the tendon gives out or tears. Most of the time, this is a slow process. Once the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments stretch, body weight causes the bones of the arch to move out of position. The foot rotates inward (pronation), the heel bone is tilted to the inside, and the arch appears collapsed. In some cases, the deformity progresses until the foot dislocates outward from the ankle joint.
The first stage represents inflammation and symptoms originating from an irritated posterior tibial tendon, which is still functional. Stage two is characterized by a change in the alignment of the foot noted on observation while standing (see above photos). The deformity is supple meaning the foot is freely movable and a ?normal? position can be restored by the examiner. Stage two is also associated with the inability to perform a single-leg heel rise. The third stage is dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a flatfoot deformity that becomes stiff because of arthritis. Prolonged deformity causes irritation to the involved joints resulting in arthritis. The fourth phase is a flatfoot deformity either supple (stage two) or stiff (stage 3) with involvement of the ankle joint. This occurs when the deltoid ligament, the major supporting structure on the inside of the ankle, fails to provide support. The ankle becomes unstable and will demonstrate a tilted appearance on X-ray. Failure of the deltoid ligament results from an inward displacement of the weight bearing forces. When prolonged, this change can lead to ankle arthritis. The vast majority of patients with acquired adult flatfoot deformity are stage 2 by the time they seek treatment from a physician.
Clinicians need to recognize the early stage of this syndrome which includes pain, swelling, tendonitis and disability. The musculoskeletal portion of the clinical exam can help determine the stage of the disease. It is important to palpate the posterior tibial tendon and test its muscle strength. This is tested by asking patient to plantarflex and invert the foot. Joint range of motion is should be assessed as well. Stiffness of the joints may indicate longstanding disease causing a rigid deformity. A weightbearing examination should be performed as well. A complete absence of the medial longitudinal arch is often seen. In later stages the head of the talus bone projects outward to the point of a large "lump" in the arch. Observing the patient's feet from behind shows a significant valgus rotation of the heel. From behind, the "too many toes" sign may be seen as well. This is when there is abducution of the forefoot in the transverse plane allowing the toes to be seen from behind. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon can be assessed by asking the patient to stand on his/her toes on the affected foot. If they are unable to, this indicates the disease is in a more advanced stage with the tendon possibly completely ruptured.
Non surgical Treatment
Treating PTTD is almost always easier the earlier you catch it. So, the first step in treatment is to see your doctor as soon as you begin experiencing painful symptoms. However, once your condition has been diagnosed, your podiatrist will likely try to give the upset tendon a bit of a break so it?ll calm down and stop being so painful. This can often be accomplished by immobilizing the foot using tape and padding, braces, or casts, depending on what your podiatrist believes will work best for you, and depending on the severity of your condition. You may also be instructed to reduce inflammation by applying ice to the area (usually 40 minutes on and 20 minutes off, with a thin towel between you and the ice). Or, you might take anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (steroidal anti-inflammatory meds are actually likely to make this problem worse, and are not usually recommended in treating PTTD), or use ultrasound therapy. Once the inflammation has gone down a bit, your podiatrist may recommend using orthotics (prescription shoe inserts) to support your damaged arch. Ankle braces can also be helpful.
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.