Flatfoot may sound like a characteristic of a certain water animal rather than a human problem. Flatfoot is a condition in which the arch of the foot is fallen and the foot is pointed outward. In contrast to a flatfoot condition that has always been present, this type develops after the skeleton has reached maturity. There are several situations that can result in fallen arches, including fracture, dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, and arthritis. One of the most common conditions that can lead to this foot problem is posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. The posterior tibial tendon attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of the foot and is crucial in holding up and supporting the arch. An acute injury or overuse can cause this tendon to become inflamed or even torn, and the arch of the foot will slowly fall over time.
The cause of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is not completely understood. The condition commonly does not start from one acute trauma but is a process of gradual degeneration of the soft tissues supporting the medial (inner) side of the foot. It is most often associated with a foot that started out somewhat flat or pronated (rolled inward). This type of foot places more stress on the medial soft tissue structures, which include the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments on the inner side of the foot. Children nearly fully grown can end up with flat feet, the majority of which are no problem. However, if the deformity is severe enough it can cause significant functional limitations at that age and later on if soft tissue failure occurs. Also, young adults with normally aligned feet can acutely injure their posterior tibial tendon from a trauma and not develop deformity. The degenerative condition in patients beyond their twenties is different from the acute injuries in young patients or adolescent deformities, where progression of deformity is likely to occur.
Initially, flatfoot deformity may not present with any symptoms. However, overtime as the tendon continues to function in an abnormal position, people with fallen arches will begin to have throbbing or sharp pain along the inside of the arch. Once the tendon and soft tissue around it elongates, there is no strengthening exercises or mechanism to shorten the tendon back to a normal position. Flatfoot can also occur in one or both feet. If the arch starts to slowly collapse in one foot and not the other, posterior tibial dysfunction (PTTD) is the most likely cause. People with flatfoot may only have pain with certain activities such as running or exercise in the early phase of PTTD. Pain may start from the arch and continue towards the inside part of the foot and ankle where the tendon courses from the leg. Redness, swelling and increased warmth may also occur. Later signs of PTTD include pain on the outside of the foot from the arch collapsing and impinging other joints. Arthritic symptoms such as painful, swollen joints in the foot and ankle may occur later as well due to the increased stress on the joints from working in an abnormal position for a long period of time.
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
Options range from shoe inserts, orthotics, bracing and physical therapy for elderly and/or inactive patients to reconstructive surgical procedures in those wishing to remain more active. These treatments restore proper function and alignment of the foot by replacing the damaged muscle tendon unit with an undamaged, available and expendable one, lengthening the contracted Achilles tendon and realigning the Os Calcis, or heel bone, while preserving the joints of the hindfoot. If this condition is not recognized before it reaches advanced stages, a fusion of the hindfoot or even the ankle is necessary. Typically this is necessary in elderly individuals with advanced cases that cannot be improved with bracing.
If surgery is necessary, a number of different procedures may be considered. The specifics of the planned surgery depend upon the stage of the disorder and the patient?s specific goals. Procedures may include ligament and muscle lengthening, removal of the inflamed tendon lining, tendon transfers, cutting and realigning bones, placement of implants to realign the foot and joint fusions. In general, early stage disease may be treated with tendon and ligament (soft-tissue) procedures with the addition of osteotomies to realign the foot. Later stage disease with either a rigidly fixed deformity or with arthritis is often treated with fusion procedures. If you are considering surgery, your doctor will speak with about the specifics of the planned procedure.