Adult flatfoot may be due to multiple problems including a dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon (PTT), hypermobility and ligamentous laxity, or possibly a coalition that becomes symptomatic. For a vast majority of patients, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is the cause of symptomatic flatfoot and is the main trigger of surgical reconstruction in flatfoot. The common presenting scenario for adult flatfoot is a case of unilateral flatfoot with pain. Patients will often confirm they ?always had flat feet? but have noticed increased pain and additional collapse in the past few months to years. They may also note increased swelling and a possible concern over one foot increasing in shoe size. After a comprehensive dermatologic, neurologic and vascular assessment, one should direct his or her attention to the musculoskeletal portion of the exam. It is key to examine the foot and leg as a whole in order to determine the proper procedure and consider each phase of the corrective surgery.
As the name suggests, adult-acquired flatfoot occurs once musculoskeletal maturity is reached, and it can present for a number of reasons, though one stands out among the others. While fractures, dislocations, tendon lacerations, and other such traumatic events do contribute to adult-acquired flatfoot as a significant lower extremity disorder, as mentioned above, damage to the posterior tibial tendon is most often at the heart of adult-acquired flatfoot. One study further elaborates on the matter by concluding that ?60% of patients [presenting with posterior tibial tendon damage and adult-acquired flatfoot] were obese or had diabetes mellitus, hypertension, previous surgery or trauma to the medial foot, or treatment with steroids?.
Symptoms shift around a bit, depending on what stage of PTTD you?re in. For instance, you?re likely to start off with tendonitis, or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon. This will make the area around the inside of your ankle and possibly into your arch swollen, reddened, warm to the touch, and painful. Inflammation may actually last throughout the stages of PTTD. The ankle will also begin to roll towards the inside of the foot (pronate), your heel may tilt, and you may experience some pain in your leg (e.g. shin splints). As the condition progresses, the toes and foot begin to turn outward, so that when you look at your foot from the back (or have a friend look for you, because-hey-that can be kind of a difficult maneuver to pull off) more toes than usual will be visible on the outside (i.e. the side with the pinky toe). At this stage, the foot?s still going to be flexible, although it will likely have flattened somewhat due to the lack of support from the posterior tibial tendon. You may also find it difficult to stand on your toes. Finally, you may reach a stage in which your feet are inflexibly flat. At this point, you may experience pain below your ankle on the outside of your foot, and you might even develop arthritis in the ankle.
In the early stages of dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, most of the discomfort is located medially along the course of the tendon and the patient reports fatigue and aching on the plantar-medial aspect of the foot and ankle. Swelling is common if the dysfunction is associated with tenosynovitis. As dysfunction of the tendon progresses, maximum pain occurs laterally in the sinus tarsi because of impingement of the fibula against the calcaneus. With increasing deformity, patients report that the shape of the foot changes and that it becomes increasingly difficult to wear shoes. Many patients no longer report pain in the medial part of the foot and ankle after a complete rupture of the posterior tibial tendon has occurred; instead, the pain is located laterally. If a fixed deformity has not occurred, the patient may report that standing or walking with the hindfoot slightly inverted alleviates the lateral impingement and relieves the pain in the lateral part of the foot.
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.
Good to excellent results for more than 80% of patients have been reported at five years' follow up for the surgical interventions recommended below. However, the postoperative recovery is a lengthy process, and most surgical procedures require patients to wear a plaster cast for two to three months. Although many patients report that their function is well improved by six months, in our experience a year is required to recover truly and gain full functional improvement after the surgery. Clearly, some patients are not candidates for such major reconstructive surgery.