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.
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.
Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction is diagnosed with careful clinical observation of the patient?s gait (walking), range of motion testing for the foot and ankle joints, and diagnostic imaging. People with flatfoot deformity walk with the heel angled outward, also called over-pronation. Although it is normal for the arch to impact the ground for shock absorption, people with PTTD have an arch that fully collapses to the ground and does not reform an arch during the entire gait period. After evaluating the ambulation pattern, the foot and ankle range of motion should be tested. Usually the affected foot will have decreased motion to the ankle joint and the hindfoot. Muscle strength may also be weaker as well. An easy test to perform for PTTD is the single heel raise where the patient is asked to raise up on the ball of his or her effected foot. A normal foot type can lift up on the toes without pain and the heel will invert slightly once the person has fully raised the heel up during the test. In early phases of PTTD the patient may be able to lift up the heel but the heel will not invert. An elongated or torn posterior tibial tendon, which is a mid to late finding of PTTD, will prohibit the patient from fully rising up on the heel and will cause intense pain to the arch. Finally diagnostic imaging, although used alone cannot diagnose PTTD, can provide additional information for an accurate diagnosis of flatfoot deformity. Xrays of the foot can show the practitioner important angular relationships of the hindfoot and forefoot which help diagnose flatfoot deformity. Most of the time, an MRI is not needed to diagnose PTTD but is a tool that should be considered in advanced cases of flatfoot deformity. If a partial tear of the posterior tibial tendon is of concern, then an MRI can show the anatomic location of the tear and the extensiveness of the injury.
Non surgical Treatment
PTTD is a progressive condition. Early treatment is needed to prevent relentless progression to a more advanced disease which can lead to more problems for that affected foot. In general, the treatments include rest. Reducing or even stopping activities that worsen the pain is the initial step. Switching to low-impact exercise such as cycling, elliptical trainers, or swimming is helpful. These activities do not put a large impact load on the foot. Ice. Apply cold packs on the most painful area of the posterior tibial tendon frequently to keep down the swelling. Placing ice over the tendon immediately after completing an exercise helps to decrease the inflammation around the tendon. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Medication (NSAIDS). Drugs, such as arcoxia, voltaren and celebrex help to reduce pain and inflammation. Taking such medications prior to an exercise activity helps to limit inflammation around the tendon. However, long term use of these drugs can be harmful to you with side effects including peptic ulcer disease and renal impairment or failure. Casting. A short leg cast or walking boot may be used for 6 to 8 weeks in the acutely painful foot. This allows the tendon to rest and the swelling to go down. However, a cast causes the other muscles of the leg to atrophy (decrease in strength) and thus is only used if no other conservative treatment works. Most people can be helped with orthotics and braces. An orthotic is a shoe insert. It is the most common non-surgical treatment for a flatfoot and it is very safe to use. A custom orthotic is required in patients who have moderate to severe changes in the shape of the foot. Physiotherapy helps to strengthen the injured tendon and it can help patients with mild to moderate disease of the posterior tibial tendon.
If conservative treatment fails surgical intervention is offered. For a Stage 1 deformity a posterior tibial tendon tenosynovectomy (debridement of the tendon) or primary repair may be indicated. For Stage 2 a combination of Achilles lengthening with bone cuts, calcaneal osteotomies, and tendon transfers is common. Stage 2 flexible PTTD is the most common stage patients present with for treatment. In Stage 3 or 4 PTTD isolated fusions, locking two or more joints together, maybe indicated. All treatment is dependent on the stage and severity at presentation with the goals and activity levels of the patient in mind. Treatment is customized to the individual patient needs.