One in four adults in the U.S. has adult acquired flatfoot deformity, which may begin during childhood or be acquired with age. The foot may be flat all the time or may lose its arch when the person stands. The most common and serious cause of flat foot is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction, in which the main tendon that supports the arch gradually weakens.
There are a number of theories as to why the tendon becomes inflamed and stops working. It may be related to the poor blood supply within the tendon. Increasing age, inflammatory arthritis, diabetes and obesity have been found to be causes.
Patients often experience pain and/or deformity at the ankle or hindfoot. When the posterior tibial tendon does not work properly, a number of changes can occur to the foot and ankle. In the earlier stages, symptoms often include pain and tenderness along the posterior tibial tendon behind the inside of the ankle. As the tendon progressively fails, deformity of the foot and ankle may occur. This deformity can include progressive flattening of the arch, shifting of the heel so that it no longer is aligned underneath the rest of the leg, rotation and deformity of the forefoot, tightening of the heel cord, development of arthritis, and deformity of the ankle joint. At certain stages of this disorder, pain may shift from the inside to the outside aspect of the ankle as the heel shifts outward and structures are pinched laterally.
Your podiatrist is very familiar with tendons that have just about had enough, and will likely be able to diagnose this condition by performing a physical exam of your foot. He or she will probably examine the area visually and by feel, will inquire about your medical history (including past pain or injuries), and may also observe your feet as you walk. You may also be asked to attempt standing on your toes. This may be done by having you lift your ?good? foot (the one without the complaining tendon) off the ground, standing only on your problem foot. (You may be instructed to place your hands against the wall to help with balance.) Then, your podiatrist will ask you to try to go up on your toes on the bad foot. If you have difficulty doing so, it may indicate a problem with your posterior tibial tendon. Some imaging technology may be used to diagnose this condition, although it?s more likely the doctor will rely primarily on a physical exam. However, he or she may order scans such as an MRI or CT scan to look at your foot?s interior, and X-rays might also be helpful in a diagnosis.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative treatment of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction can be successful with the Arizona AFO brace, particularly when treatment is initiated in the early stages of the disease. This mandates that the orthopedist has a high index of suspicion when evaluating patients to make an accurate diagnosis. Although there is a role for surgical management of acquired flat feet, a well-fitted, custom-molded leather and polypropylene orthosis can be effective at relieving symptoms and either obviating or delaying any surgical intervention. In today’s climate of patient satisfaction directed health care, a less invasive treatment modality that relieves pain may prove to be more valuable than similar pain relief that is obtained after surgery. Questions regarding the long-term results of bracing remain unanswered. Future studies are needed to determine if disease progression and arthrosis occur despite symptomatic relief with a brace. Furthermore, age- and disease stage-matched control groups who are randomized to undergo surgery or bracing are necessary to compare these different treatment modalities.
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.