Acquired flatfoot deformity caused by dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a common clinical problem. Treatment, which depends on the severity of the symptoms and the stage of the disease, includes non-operative options, such as rest, administration of anti-inflammatory medication, and immobilization, as well as operative options, such as tendon transfer, calcaneal osteotomy, and several methods of arthrodesis.
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.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
The history and physical examination are probably the most important tools the physician uses to diagnose this problem. The wear pattern on your shoes can offer some helpful clues. Muscle testing helps identify any areas of weakness or muscle impairment. This should be done in both the weight bearing and nonweight bearing positions. A very effective test is the single heel raise. You will be asked to stand on one foot and rise up on your toes. You should be able to lift your heel off the ground easily while keeping the calcaneus (heel bone) in the middle with slight inversion (turned inward). X-rays are often used to study the position, shape, and alignment of the bones in the feet and ankles. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the imaging modality of choice for evaluating the posterior tibial tendon and spring ligament complex.
Non surgical Treatment
Flatfoot deformity can be treated conservatively or with surgical intervention depending on the severity of the condition. When people notice their arches flattening, they should immediately avoid non-supportive shoes such as flip-flops, sandals or thin-soled tennis shoes. Theses shoes will only worsen the flatfoot deformity and exacerbate arch pain. Next, custom orthotics are essential for people with collapsed arches. Over-the-counter insoles only provide cushion and padding to the arch, whereas custom orthotics are fabricated to specifically fit the patient?s foot and provide support in the arch where the posterior tibial tendon is unable to anymore. Use of custom orthotics in the early phases of flatfoot or PTTD can prevent worsening of symptoms and prevent further attenuation or injury to the posterior tibial tendon. In more severe cases of flatfoot deformity an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) such as a Ritchie brace is needed. This brace provides more support to the arch and hindfoot rather than an orthotic but can be bulky in normal shoegear. Additional treatment along with use of custom orthotics is use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as Advil, Motrin, or Ibuprofen which can decrease inflammation to the posterior tibial tendon. If pain is severe, the patient may need to be placed in a below the knee air walker boot for several weeks which will allow the tendon to rest and heal, especially if a posterior tibial tendon tear is noted on MRI.
Until recently, operative treatment was indicated for most patients with stage 2 deformities. However, with the use of potentially effective nonoperative management , operative treatment is now indicated for those patients that have failed nonoperative management. The principles of operative treatment of stage 2 deformities include transferring another tendon to help serve the role of the dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon (usually the flexor hallucis longus is transferred). Restoring the shape and alignment of the foot. This moves the weight bearing axis back to the center of the ankle. Changing the shape of the foot can be achieved by one or more of the following procedures. Cutting the heel bone and shifting it to the inside (Medializing calcaneal osteotomy). Lateral column lengthening restores the arch and overall alignment of the foot. Medial column stabilization. This stiffens the ray of the big toe to better support the arch. Lengthening of the Achilles tendon or Gastrocnemius. This will allow the ankle to move adequately once the alignment of the foot is corrected. Stage 3 acquired adult flatfoot deformity is treated operatively with a hindfoot fusion (arthrodesis). This is done with either a double or triple arthrodesis - fusion of two or three of the joints in hindfoot through which the deformity occurs. It is important when a hindfoot arthrodesis is performed that it be done in such a way that the underlying foot deformity is corrected first. Simply fusing the hindfoot joints in place is no longer acceptable.