Flatfoot deformity is a general term used to describe a person whose arches are slowly dropping to the ground, aka fallen arches. Adult-acquired flatfoot deformity can be caused by several factors, but the most common is abnormal functioning of the posterior tibial tendon in the foot and ankle. The posterior tibial tendon is the primary tendon that supports the arch. If this tendon begins to elongate from a sustained, gradual stretch over a long period of time, then the arch will progressively decrease until full collapse of the arch is noted on standing. What makes this tendon elongated? Biomechanical instability of the foot such as over-pronation or an accessory bone at the insertion site of the tendon are the primary causes for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
Overuse of the posterior tibial tendon is often the cause of PTTD. In fact, the symptoms usually occur after activities that involve the tendon, such as running, walking, hiking, or climbing stairs.
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.
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
Options range from shoe inserts, orthotics, bracing and physical therapy for elderly and/or inactive patients to reconstructive surgical procedures in those wishing to remain more active. These treatments restore proper function and alignment of the foot by replacing the damaged muscle tendon unit with an undamaged, available and expendable one, lengthening the contracted Achilles tendon and realigning the Os Calcis, or heel bone, while preserving the joints of the hindfoot. If this condition is not recognized before it reaches advanced stages, a fusion of the hindfoot or even the ankle is necessary. Typically this is necessary in elderly individuals with advanced cases that cannot be improved with bracing.
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.