Adult flatfoot refers to a deformity that develops after skeletal maturity is reached. Adult flatfoot should be differentiated from constitutional flatfoot, which is a common congenital non-pathologic foot morphology. There are numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot deformity. There is often no specific event that starts the problem, such as a sudden tendon injury. More commonly, the tendon becomes injured from cumulative wear and tear. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction occurs more commonly in patients who already have a flat foot for other reasons. As the arch flattens, more stress is placed on the posterior tibial tendon and also on the ligaments on the inside of the foot and ankle. The result is a progressive disorder.
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.
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
Non-surgical treatment includes rest and reducing your activity until the pain improves. Orthotics or bracing help support the tendon to reduce its pull along the arch, thus reducing pain. In moderate to severe cases, a below knee cast or walking boot may be needed to allow the tendon to rest completely and heal. Physical therapy is an integral part of the non-surgical treatment regimen to reduce inflammation and pain. Anti-inflammatory medication is often used as well. Many times evaluation of your current shoes is necessary to ensure you are wearing appropriate shoe gear to prevent re-injury.
Surgery is usually performed when non-surgical measures have failed. The goal of surgery is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve a patient?s mobility. More than one technique may be used, and surgery tends to include one or more of the following. The tendon is reconstructed or replaced using another tendon in the foot or ankle The name of the technique depends on the tendon used. Flexor digitorum longus (FDL) transfer. Flexor hallucis longus (FHL) transfer. Tibialis anterior transfer (Cobb procedure). Calcaneal osteotomy - the heel bone may be shifted to bring your heel back under your leg and the position fixed with a screw. Lengthening of the Achilles tendon if it is particularly tight. Repair one of the ligaments under your foot. If you smoke, your surgeon may refuse to operate unless you can refrain from smoking before and during the healing phase of your procedure. Research has proven that smoking delays bone healing significantly.