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.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the 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. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
The symptoms of PTTD may include pain, swelling, a flattening of the arch, and an inward rolling of the ankle. As the condition progresses, the symptoms will change. For example, when PTTD initially develops, there is pain on the inside of the foot and ankle (along the course of the tendon). In addition, the area may be red, warm, and swollen. Later, as the arch begins to flatten, there may still be pain on the inside of the foot and ankle. But at this point, the foot and toes begin to turn outward and the ankle rolls inward. As PTTD becomes more advanced, the arch flattens even more and the pain often shifts to the outside of the foot, below the ankle. The tendon has deteriorated considerably and arthritis often develops in the foot. In more severe cases, arthritis may also develop in the ankle.
It is of great importance to have a full evaluation, by a foot and ankle specialist with expertise in addressing complex flatfoot deformities. No two flat feet are alike; therefore, “Universal” treatment plans do not exist for the Adult Flatfoot. It is important to have a custom treatment plan that is tailored to your specific foot. That starts by first understanding all the intricacies of your foot, through an extensive evaluation. X-rays of the foot and ankle are standard, and MRI may be used to better assess the quality of the PT Tendon.
Non surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment also depends on the stage of the disease. Early on, the pain and swelling with no deformity can be treated with rest, ice, compression, elevation and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Usually OTC orthotic inserts are recommended with stability oriented athletic shoes. If this fails or the condition is more advanced, immobilization in a rigid walking boot is recommended. This rests the tendon and protects it from further irritation, attenuation, or tearing. If symptoms are greatly improved or eliminated then the patient may return to a supportive shoe. To protect the patient from reoccurrence, different types of devices are recommended. The most common device is orthotics. Usually custom-made orthotics are preferable to OTC. They are reserved for early staged PTTD. Advanced stages may require a more aggressive type orthotic or an AFO (ankle-foot orthosis). There are different types of AFO’s. One type has a double-upright/stirrup attached to a footplate. Another is a gauntlet-type with a custom plastic interior surrounded be a lace-up leather exterior. Both require the use of a bulky type athletic or orthopedic shoes. Patient compliance is always challenging with these larger braces and shoes.
Surgical treatment should be considered when all other conservative treatment has failed. Surgery options for flatfoot reconstruction depend on the severity of the flatfoot. Surgery for a flexible flatfoot deformity (flatfoot without arthritis to the foot joints) involves advancing the posterior tibial tendon under the arch to provide more support and decrease elongation of the tendon as well as addressing the hindfoot eversion with a osteotomy to the calcaneus (surgical cut in the heel bone). Additionally, the Achilles tendon may need to be lengthened because of the compensatory contracture of the Achilles tendon with flatfoot deformity. Flatfoot deformity with arthritic changes to the foot is considered a rigid flatfoot. Correction of a rigid flatfoot deformity usually involves surgical fusion of the hindfoot joints. This is a reconstructive procedure which allows the surgeon to re-position the foot into a normal position. Although the procedure should be considered for advanced PTTD, it has many complications and should be discussed at length with your doctor.