Adult-acquired flatfoot or collapsed arch occurs because the large tendon on the inside of the ankle – the posterior tibial tendon – becomes stretched out and no longer supports the foot?s arch. In many cases, the condition worsens and and the tendon thickens, becoming painful, especially during activities. Flatfoot or collapsed arch is also known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. This condition is different than having flat feet since birth (known as congenital flatfoot), although sometimes these patients develop similar symptoms and require similar treatments.
As discussed above, many different problems can create a painful flatfoot. Damage to the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of AAFD. The posterior tibial tendon is one of the most important tendons of the leg. It starts at a muscle in the calf, travels down the inside of the lower leg and attaches to the bones on the inside of the foot. The main function of this tendon is to support the arch of your foot when you walk. If the tendon becomes inflamed or torn, the arch will slowly collapse. Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop problems with the posterior tibial tendon. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Having flat feet since childhood increases the risk of developing a tear in the posterior tibial tendon. In addition, people who are involved in high impact sports, such as basketball, tennis, or soccer, may have tears of the tendon from repetitive use. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch. An injury to the tendons or ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. Injuries to tendons of the foot can occur either in one instance (traumatically) or with repeated use over time (overuse injury). Regardless of the cause, if tendon function is altered, the forces that are transmitted across joints in the foot are changed and this can lead to increased stress on joint cartilage and ligaments. In addition to tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with nerve problems that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have collapse of the arch or of the entire foot. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.
In many cases, adult flatfoot causes no pain or problems. In others, pain may be severe. Many people experience aching pain in the heel and arch and swelling along the inner side of the foot.
The history and physical examination are probably the most important tools the physician uses to diagnose this problem. The wear pattern on your shoes can offer some helpful clues. Muscle testing helps identify any areas of weakness or muscle impairment. This should be done in both the weight bearing and nonweight bearing positions. A very effective test is the single heel raise. You will be asked to stand on one foot and rise up on your toes. You should be able to lift your heel off the ground easily while keeping the calcaneus (heel bone) in the middle with slight inversion (turned inward). X-rays are often used to study the position, shape, and alignment of the bones in the feet and ankles. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the imaging modality of choice for evaluating the posterior tibial tendon and spring ligament complex.
Non surgical Treatment
In the early stages, simple pre-fabricated orthotics can help improve the heel position to reduce the mechanical load which is contributing to the symptoms. In advanced stages or long term orthotic use, a plaster of paris or foam box cast can be taken and specific bespoke orthotics manufactured. If the condition develops further a AFO (ankle foot orthotic) may be necessary for greater control. In more advanced stages of symptomatic Adult Acquired flat feet, where the conservative methods of treatment have failed there are various forms of surgery available depending upon the root cause of the issue and severity.
In cases of PTTD that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. For some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Surgical treatment may include repairing the tendon, tendon transfers, realigning the bones of the foot, joint fusions, or both. Dr. Piccarelli will determine the best approach for your specific case. A variety of surgical techniques is available to correct flexible flatfoot. Your case may require one procedure or a combination of procedures. All of these surgical techniques are aimed at relieving the symptoms and improving foot function. Among these procedures are tendon transfers or tendon lengthening procedures, realignment of one or more bones, or insertion of implant devices. Whether you have flexible flatfoot or PTTD, to select the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, Dr. Piccarelli will take into consideration the extent of your deformity based on the x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.