Adult-acquired flatfoot or collapsed arch occurs because the large tendon on the inside of the ankle - the posterior tibial tendon - becomes stretched out and no longer supports the foot?s arch. In many cases, the condition worsens and and the tendon thickens, becoming painful, especially during activities. Flatfoot or collapsed arch is also known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. This condition is different than having flat feet since birth (known as congenital flatfoot), although sometimes these patients develop similar symptoms and require similar treatments.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the 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. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
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.
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
Medical or nonoperative therapy for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction involves rest, immobilization, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, orthotics, and bracing. This treatment is especially attractive for patients who are elderly, who place low demands on the tendon, and who may have underlying medical problems that preclude operative intervention. During stage 1 posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, pain, rather than deformity, predominates. Cast immobilization is indicated for acute tenosynovitis of the posterior tibial tendon or for patients whose main presenting feature is chronic pain along the tendon sheath. A well-molded short leg walking cast or removable cast boot should be used for 6-8 weeks. Weight bearing is permitted if the patient is able to ambulate without pain. If improvement is noted, the patient then may be placed in custom full-length semirigid orthotics. The patient may then be referred to physical therapy for stretching of the Achilles tendon and strengthening of the posterior tibial tendon. Steroid injection into the posterior tibial tendon sheath is not recommended due to the possibility of causing a tendon rupture. In stage 2 dysfunction, a painful flexible deformity develops, and more control of hindfoot motion is required. In these cases, a rigid University of California at Berkley (UCBL) orthosis or short articulated ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is indicated. Once a rigid flatfoot deformity develops, as in stage 3 or 4, bracing is extended above the ankle with a molded AFO, double upright brace, or patellar-tendon-bearing brace. The goals of this treatment are to accommodate the deformity, prevent or slow further collapse, and improve walking ability by transferring load to the proximal leg away from the collapsed medial midfoot and heel.
Flatfoot reconstruction (osteotomy). This is often recommended for flexible flatfoot condition. Flatfoot reconstruction involves cutting and shifting the heel bone into a more neutral position, transferring the tendon used to flex the lesser toes (all but the big toe) to strengthen the posterior tibial tendon, and lengthening the calf muscle. Fusion (also known as triple arthrodesis). Fusion involves fusing, or making stiff, three joints in the back of the foot the subtalar, talonavicular, and calcaneocuboid joints, to realign the foot and give it a more natural shape. Pins or screws hold the area in place until it heals. Fusion is often recommended for a rigid flatfoot deformity or evidence of arthritis. Both of these surgeries can provide excellent pain relief and correction.