Originally known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or insufficiency, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity encompasses a wide range of deformities. These deformities vary in location, severity, and rate of progression. Establishing a diagnosis as early as possible is one of the most important factors in treatment. Prompt early, aggressive nonsurgical management is important. A patient in whom such treatment fails should strongly consider surgical correction to avoid worsening of the deformity. In all four stages of deformity, the goal of surgery is to achieve proper alignment and maintain as much flexibility as possible in the foot and ankle complex. However, controversy remains as to how to manage flexible deformities, especially those that are severe.
As discussed above, many different problems can create a painful flatfoot. Damage to the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of AAFD. The posterior tibial tendon is one of the most important tendons of the leg. It starts at a muscle in the calf, travels down the inside of the lower leg and attaches to the bones on the inside of the foot. The main function of this tendon is to support the arch of your foot when you walk. If the tendon becomes inflamed or torn, the arch will slowly collapse. Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop problems with the posterior tibial tendon. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Having flat feet since childhood increases the risk of developing a tear in the posterior tibial tendon. In addition, people who are involved in high impact sports, such as basketball, tennis, or soccer, may have tears of the tendon from repetitive use. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch. An injury to the tendons or 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. Injuries to tendons of the foot can occur either in one instance (traumatically) or with repeated use over time (overuse injury). Regardless of the cause, if tendon function is altered, the forces that are transmitted across joints in the foot are changed and this can lead to increased stress on joint cartilage and ligaments. In addition to tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with nerve problems that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have collapse of the arch or of the entire foot. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.
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.
First, both feet should be examined with the patient standing and the entire lower extremity visible. The foot should be inspected from above as well as from behind the patient, as valgus angulation of the hindfoot is best appreciated when the foot is viewed from behind. Johnson described the so-called more-toes sign: with more advanced deformity and abduction of the forefoot, more of the lateral toes become visible when the foot is viewed from behind. The single-limb heel-rise test is an excellent determinant of the function of the posterior tibial tendon. The patient is asked to attempt to rise onto the ball of one foot while the other foot is suspended off the floor. Under normal circumstances, the posterior tibial muscle, which inverts and stabilizes the hindfoot, is activated as the patient begins to rise onto the forefoot. The gastrocnemius-soleus muscle group then elevates the calcaneus, and the heel-rise is accomplished. With dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, however, inversion of the heel is weak, and either the heel remains in valgus or the patient is unable to rise onto the forefoot. If the patient can do a single-limb heel-rise, the limb may be stressed further by asking the patient to perform this maneuver repetitively.
Non surgical Treatment
Get treated early. There is no recommended home treatment. While in stage one of the deformity, rest, a cast, and anti-inflammatory therapy can help you find relief. This treatment is followed by creating custom-molded foot orthoses and orthopedic footwear. These customized items are critical in maintaining the stability of the foot and ankle. Once the tendon has stretched and deformity is visible, the chances of success for non-surgical treatment are significantly lower. In a small percentage of patients, total immobilization may arrest the progression of the deformity. A long-term brace known as an ankle foot orthosis is required to keep the deformity from progressing. The Richie Brace, a type of ankle foot orthosis, shows significant success as a treatment for stage two posterior tibial dysfunction. It is a sport-style brace connected to a custom corrected foot orthodic that fits into most lace-up footwear (including athletic shoes). It is also light weight and more cosmetically appealing than traditionally prescribed ankle foot orthosis. The Arizona Brace, California Brace or Gauntlet Brace may also be recommended depending on your needs.
Surgical intervention for adult acquired flatfoot is appropriate when there is pain and swelling, and the patient notices that one foot looks different than the other because the arch is collapsing. As many as three in four adults with flat feet eventually need surgery, and it?s better to have the joint preservation procedure done before your arch totally collapses. In most cases, early and appropriate surgical treatment is successful in stabilizing the condition.