One in four adults in the U.S. has adult acquired flatfoot deformity, which may begin during childhood or be acquired with age. The foot may be flat all the time or may lose its arch when the person stands. The most common and serious cause of flat foot is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction, in which the main tendon that supports the arch gradually weakens.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
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.
Observation by a skilled foot clinician and a hands-on evaluation of the foot and ankle is the most accurate diagnostic technique. Your Dallas foot doctor may have you do a walking examination (the most reliable way to check for the deformity). During walking, the affected foot appears more pronated and deformed. Your podiatrist may do muscle testing to look for strength deficiencies. During a single foot raise test, the foot doctor will ask you to rise up on the tip of your toes while keeping your unaffected foot off the ground. If your posterior tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, you will be unable to lift your heel off the floor. In less severe cases, it is possible to rise onto your toes, but your heel will not invert normally. X-rays are not always helpful as a diagnostic tool for Adult Flatfoot because both feet will generally demonstrate a deformity. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may show tendon injury and inflammation, but can?t always be relied on for a complete diagnosis. In most cases, a MRI is not necessary to diagnose a posterior tibial tendon injury. An ultrasound may also be used to confirm the deformity, but is usually not required for an initial diagnosis.
Non surgical Treatment
Orthoses (insoles, functional orthoses, ankle supports, braces, ankle foot orthoses (AFOs)) - are usually custom-made to increase the functional stability of the foot and improve the mechanical properties of the tendon as well as reducing the actual degree of strain on the tendon. This reduces pain and inflammation. Physiotherapy - exercises and physiotherapy are often used to increase mobility, strengthen the tendon itself, stretch your Achilles tendon as well as reduce pain. Once the tendon has been stretched (stage one), the heel starts rolling outwards. Total immobilisation in a cast may help the symptoms to subside and prevent progression of the deformity in a smaller percentage of patients. Long-term use of orthoses may help stop progression of the deformity and reduce pain without surgery. Non-surgical treatment is unlikely to prevent progression to stage three and four but may be chosen by some patients who either are unsuitable for surgery or prefer not to have surgery.
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.