Adult acquired flatfoot deformity or posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is a gradual but progressive loss of ones arch. The posterior tibial muscle is a deep muscle in the back of the calf. It has a long tendon that extends from above the ankle and attaches into several sites around the arch of the foot. The muscle acts like a stirrup on the inside of the foot to help support the arch. The posterior tibial muscle stabilizes the arch and creates a rigid platform for walking and running. If the posterior tibial tendon becomes damaged or tears the arch loses its stability and as a result, collapses causing a flatfoot. Adult flatfoot deformity can occur in people of all ages and gender however, it occurs most commonly in sedentary middle aged to elderly females. There are several risk factors for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction that include: obesity, steroid use, systemic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, trauma, being born with a low arch, and diabetes. It occurs most commonly in one foot however, it can occur in both feet especially in people with systemic diseases such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
The cause of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is not completely understood. The condition commonly does not start from one acute trauma but is a process of gradual degeneration of the soft tissues supporting the medial (inner) side of the foot. It is most often associated with a foot that started out somewhat flat or pronated (rolled inward). This type of foot places more stress on the medial soft tissue structures, which include the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments on the inner side of the foot. Children nearly fully grown can end up with flat feet, the majority of which are no problem. However, if the deformity is severe enough it can cause significant functional limitations at that age and later on if soft tissue failure occurs. Also, young adults with normally aligned feet can acutely injure their posterior tibial tendon from a trauma and not develop deformity. The degenerative condition in patients beyond their twenties is different from the acute injuries in young patients or adolescent deformities, where progression of deformity is likely to occur.
The symptom most often associated with AAF is PTTD, but it is important to see this only as a single step along a broader continuum. The most important function of the PT tendon is to work in synergy with the peroneus longus to stabilize the midtarsal joint (MTJ). When the PT muscle contracts and acts concentrically, it inverts the foot, thereby raising the medial arch. When stretched under tension, acting eccentrically, its function can be seen as a pronation retarder. The integrity of the PT tendon and muscle is crucial to the proper function of the foot, but it is far from the lone actor in maintaining the arch. There is a vital codependence on a host of other muscles and ligaments that when disrupted leads to an almost predictable loss in foot architecture and subsequent pathology.
In diagnosing flatfoot, the foot & Ankle surgeon examines the foot and observes how it looks when you stand and sit. Weight bearing x-rays are used to determine the severity of the disorder. Advanced imaging, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CAT or CT) scans may be used to assess different ligaments, tendons and joint/cartilage damage. The foot & Ankle Institute has three extremity MRI?s on site at our Des Plaines, Highland Park, and Lincoln Park locations. These extremity MRI?s only take about 30 minutes for the study and only requires the patient put their foot into a painless machine avoiding the uncomfortable Claustrophobia that some MRI devices create.
Non surgical Treatment
Footwear has an important role, and patients should be encouraged to wear flat lace-up shoes, or even lace-up boots, which accommodate orthoses. Stage I patients may be able to manage with an off the shelf orthosis (such as an Orthaheel or Formthotics). They can try a laced canvas ankle brace before moving to a casted orthosis. The various casted, semirigid orthoses support the medial longitudinal arch of the foot and either hold the heel in a neutral alignment (stage I) or correct the outward bent heel to a neutral alignment (stage II). This approach is meant to serve several functions: to alleviate stress on the tibialis posterior; to make gait more efficient by holding the hindfoot fixed; and thirdly, to prevent progression of deformity. Devices available to do this are the orthosis of the University of California Biomechanics Laboratory, an ankle foot orthosis, or a removable boot. When this approach has been used, two thirds of patients have good to excellent results.
If initial conservative therapy of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency fails, surgical treatment is considered. Operative treatment of stage 1 disease involves release of the tendon sheath, tenosynovectomy, debridement of the tendon with excision of flap tears, and repair of longitudinal tears. A short-leg walking cast is worn for 3 weeks postoperatively. Teasdall and Johnson reported complete relief of pain in 74% of 14 patients undergoing this treatment regimen for stage 1 disease. Surgical debridement of tenosynovitis in early stages is believed to possibly prevent progression of disease to later stages of dysfunction.