Over 60 Million Americans suffer from Adult Acquired Flatfoot (AAF), otherwise known as Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction or PTTD. This condition generally occurs in adults from 40-65 years of age, and it usually only occurs in one foot, not both. The Posterior Tibial (PT) Tendon courses along the inside part of the ankle and underneath the arch of the foot. It is the major supporting structure for the arch. Over time, the tendon becomes diseased, from overuse, and starts to lose it's strength. As a result, the arch begins to collapse, placing further strain on the PT Tendon, leading to further decrease in tendon strength, which causes further collapse of the arch. This is described as a progressive deformity because it will generally get worse over time.
The posterior tibial tendon, which connects the bones inside the foot to the calf, is responsible for supporting the foot during movement and holding up the arch. Gradual stretching and tearing of the posterior tibial tendon can cause failure of the ligaments in the arch. Without support, the bones in the feet fall out of normal position, rolling the foot inward. The foot's arch will collapse completely over time, resulting in adult acquired flatfoot. The ligaments and tendons holding up the arch can lose elasticity and strength as a result of aging. Obesity, diabetes, and hypertension can increase the risk of developing this condition. Adult acquired flatfoot is seen more often in women than in men and in those 40 or older.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms here. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
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
Treatment will vary depending on the degree of your symptoms. Generally, we would use a combination of rest, immobilization, orthotics, braces, and physical therapy to start. The goal is to keep swelling and inflammation under control and limit the stress on the tendon while it heals. Avoidance of activities that stress the tendon will be necessary. Once the tendon heals and you resume activity, physical therapy will further strengthen the injured tendon and help restore flexibility. Surgery may be necessary if the tendon is torn or does not respond to these conservative treatment methods. Your posterior tibial tendon is vital for normal walking. When it is injured in any way, you risk losing independence and mobility. Keep your foot health a top priority and address any pain or problems quickly. Even minor symptoms could progress into chronic problems, so don?t ignore your foot pain.
Although non-surgical treatments can successfully manage the symptoms, they do not correct the underlying problem. It can require a life-long commitment to wearing the brace during periods of increased pain or activity demands. This will lead a majority of patients to choose surgical correction of the deformity, through Reconstructive Surgery. All of the considerations that were extremely important during the evaluation stage become even more important when creating a surgical plan. Generally, a combination of procedures are utilized in the same setting, to allow full correction of the deformity. Many times, this can be performed as a same-day surgery, without need for an overnight hospital stay. However, one or two day hospital admissions can be utilized to help manage the post-operative pain. Although the recovery process can require a significant investment of time, the subsequent decades of improved function and activity level, as well as decreased pain, leads to a substantial return on your investment.