Acquired flatfoot deformity caused by dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a common clinical problem. Treatment, which depends on the severity of the symptoms and the stage of the disease, includes non-operative options, such as rest, administration of anti-inflammatory medication, and immobilization, as well as operative options, such as tendon transfer, calcaneal osteotomy, and several methods of arthrodesis.
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.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise. A patient is asked to step with full body weight on the symptomatic foot, keeping the unaffected foot off the ground. The patient is then instructed to “raise up on the tip toes” of the affected foot. If the posterior tibial tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, the patient will be unable to lift the heel off the floor and rise onto the toes. In less severe cases, the patient will be able to rise on the toes, but the heel will not be noted to invert as it normally does when we rise onto the toes. X-rays can be helpful but are not diagnostic of the adult acquired flatfoot. Both feet – the symptomatic and asymptomatic – will demonstrate a flatfoot deformity on x-ray. Careful observation may show a greater severity of deformity on the affected side.
Non surgical Treatment
Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is critical. If treated soon enough, symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of the condition can be stopped. If left untreated, PTTD may create an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and will limit your ability to walk, run, and other activities. Your podiatrist may recommend one or more of these non-surgical treatments to manage your PTTD. Orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into your shoe to support the arch. Immobilization. A short-leg cast or boot may be worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and stretching exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may recommend changes in your footwear.
Surgery is usually performed when non-surgical measures have failed. The goal of surgery is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve a patient?s mobility. More than one technique may be used, and surgery tends to include one or more of the following. The tendon is reconstructed or replaced using another tendon in the foot or ankle The name of the technique depends on the tendon used. Flexor digitorum longus (FDL) transfer. Flexor hallucis longus (FHL) transfer. Tibialis anterior transfer (Cobb procedure). Calcaneal osteotomy – the heel bone may be shifted to bring your heel back under your leg and the position fixed with a screw. Lengthening of the Achilles tendon if it is particularly tight. Repair one of the ligaments under your foot. If you smoke, your surgeon may refuse to operate unless you can refrain from smoking before and during the healing phase of your procedure. Research has proven that smoking delays bone healing significantly.