Adult flatfoot (adult acquired flatfoot) or posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is a common pathology presented to foot and ankle specialists. PTTD is characterized by a valgus (everted) hindfoot, flattening of the longitudinal arch of the foot (collapse) and abduction of the forefoot. This is a progressive deformity that begins flexible and can become rigid over time. The posterior tibial tendon (PT) is one of the main supporting structures of the foot arch. Changes within this tendon cause flattening of the foot. There are four stages of this deformity that begins flexible and progressives, with no treatment, to a rigid deformity and with time may involve the ankle joint. Patients usually present with pain in the foot or ankle stating the ?ankle? is rolling. It?s also common for patients to state they have difficulty walking barefoot. Pain is exacerbated after physical activities. Pain is usually isolated to the inside of the foot along the course of the PT tendon.
Damage to the posterior tendon from overuse is the most common cause for adult acquired flatfoot. Running, walking, hiking, and climbing stairs are activities that add stress to this tendon, and this overuse can lead to damage. Obesity, previous ankle surgery or trauma, diabetes (Charcot foot), and rheumatoid arthritis are other common risk factors.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
Observe forefoot to hindfoot alignment. Do this with the patient sitting and the heel in neutral, and also with the patient standing. I like to put blocks under the forefoot with the heel in neutral to see how much forefoot correction is necessary to help hold the hindfoot position. One last note is to check all joints for stiffness. In cases of prolonged PTTD or coalition, rigid deformity is present and one must carefully check the joints of the midfoot and hindfoot for stiffness and arthritis in the surgical pre-planning.
Non surgical Treatment
Footwear has an important role, and patients should be encouraged to wear flat lace-up shoes, or even lace-up boots, which accommodate orthoses. Stage I patients may be able to manage with an off the shelf orthosis (such as an Orthaheel or Formthotics). They can try a laced canvas ankle brace before moving to a casted orthosis. The various casted, semirigid orthoses support the medial longitudinal arch of the foot and either hold the heel in a neutral alignment (stage I) or correct the outward bent heel to a neutral alignment (stage II). This approach is meant to serve several functions: to alleviate stress on the tibialis posterior; to make gait more efficient by holding the hindfoot fixed; and thirdly, to prevent progression of deformity. Devices available to do this are the orthosis of the University of California Biomechanics Laboratory, an ankle foot orthosis, or a removable boot. When this approach has been used, two thirds of patients have good to excellent results.
Stage two deformities are less responsive to conservative therapies that can be effective in mild deformities. Bone procedures are necessary at this stage in order to recreate the arch and stabilize the foot. These procedures include isolated fusion procedures, bone grafts, and/or the repositioning of bones through cuts called osteotomies. The realigned bones are generally held in place with screws, pins, plates, or staples while the bone heals. A tendon transfer may or may not be utilized depending on the condition of the posterior tibial tendon. Stage three deformities are better treated with surgical correction, in healthy patients. Patients that are unable to tolerate surgery or the prolonged healing period are better served with either arch supports known as orthotics or bracing such as the Richie Brace. Surgical correction at this stage usually requires fusion procedures such as a triple or double arthrodesis. This involves fusing the two or three major bones in the back of the foot together with screws or pins. The most common joints fused together are the subtalar joint, talonavicular joint, and the calcaneocuboid joint. By fusing the bones together the surgeon is able to correct structural deformity and alleviate arthritic pain. Tendon transfer procedures are usually not beneficial at this stage. Stage four deformities are treated similarly but with the addition of fusing the ankle joint.