Adult-acquired flatfoot is a challenging condition to treat. It is defined as a symptomatic, progressive deformity of the foot caused by loss of supportive structures of the medial arch. It is becoming increasingly frequent with the aging population and the obesity epidemic. Patients commonly try to lose weight by exercising to improve the condition. This often leads to worsening of symptoms and progression of the disorder. Early recognition of this complex disorder is essential, if chronic pain and surgery are to be avoided.
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.
Often, this condition is only present in one foot, but it can affect both. Adult acquired flatfoot symptoms vary, but can swelling of the foot's inner side and aching heel and arch pain. Some patients experience no pain, but others may experience severe pain. Symptoms may increase during long periods of standing, resulting in fatigue. Symptoms may change over time as the condition worsens. The pain may move to the foot's outer side, and some patients may develop arthritis in the ankle and foot.
The diagnosis of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction and AAFD is usually made from a combination of symptoms, physical exam and x-ray imaging. The location of pain, shape of the foot, flexibility of the hindfoot joints and gait all may help your physician make the diagnosis and also assess how advanced the problem is.
Non surgical Treatment
Treating PTTD is almost always easier the earlier you catch it. So, the first step in treatment is to see your doctor as soon as you begin experiencing painful symptoms. However, once your condition has been diagnosed, your podiatrist will likely try to give the upset tendon a bit of a break so it?ll calm down and stop being so painful. This can often be accomplished by immobilizing the foot using tape and padding, braces, or casts, depending on what your podiatrist believes will work best for you, and depending on the severity of your condition. You may also be instructed to reduce inflammation by applying ice to the area (usually 40 minutes on and 20 minutes off, with a thin towel between you and the ice). Or, you might take anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (steroidal anti-inflammatory meds are actually likely to make this problem worse, and are not usually recommended in treating PTTD), or use ultrasound therapy. Once the inflammation has gone down a bit, your podiatrist may recommend using orthotics (prescription shoe inserts) to support your damaged arch. Ankle braces can also be helpful.
When conservative care fails to control symptoms and/or deformity, then surgery may be needed. The goal of surgical treatment is to obtain good alignment while keeping the foot and ankle as flexible as possible. The most common procedures used with this condition include arthrodesis (fusion), osteotomy (cutting out a wedge-shaped piece of bone), and lateral column lengthening. Lateral column lengthening involves the use of a bone graft at the calcaneocuboid joint. This procedure helps restore the medial longitudinal arch (arch along the inside of the foot). A torn tendon or spring ligament will be repaired or reconstructed. Other surgical options include tendon shortening or lengthening. Or the surgeon may move one or more tendons. This procedure is called a tendon transfer. Tendon transfer uses another tendon to help the posterior tibial tendon function more effectively. A tendon transfer is designed to change the force and angle of pull on the bones of the arch. It's not clear yet from research evidence which surgical procedure works best for this condition. A combination of surgical treatments may be needed. It may depend on your age, type and severity of deformity and symptoms, and your desired level of daily activity.