One in four adults in the U.S. has adult acquired flatfoot deformity, which may begin during childhood or be acquired with age. The foot may be flat all the time or may lose its arch when the person stands. The most common and serious cause of flat foot is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction, in which the main tendon that supports the arch gradually weakens.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms here. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
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
Treatment of Adult Acquired Flatfoot Deformity depends on the stage of progression, as mentioned above paragraphs. Below we will outline a variety of different treatment options available. Orthotics or bracing. To give your foot the arch the support it needs, your podiatrist or foot specialist may provide you with over the counter brace or a custom orthotic device that fits your shoe. Casting. In some cases, a cast or boot is worn to stabilize the foot and to give the tendon time to heal. Physiotherapy. Ultrasound treatments and exercises may help rehab the tendon and muscles. Medications. Over-the-counter (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen can help reduce pain, inflammation and swelling associated with AAFD. Shoe Gear. Your podiatrist may suggest changes with your shoes you are wearing and inserts you need in your shoe to help support your arch.
Until recently, operative treatment was indicated for most patients with stage 2 deformities. However, with the use of potentially effective nonoperative management , operative treatment is now indicated for those patients that have failed nonoperative management. The principles of operative treatment of stage 2 deformities include transferring another tendon to help serve the role of the dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon (usually the flexor hallucis longus is transferred). Restoring the shape and alignment of the foot. This moves the weight bearing axis back to the center of the ankle. Changing the shape of the foot can be achieved by one or more of the following procedures. Cutting the heel bone and shifting it to the inside (Medializing calcaneal osteotomy). Lateral column lengthening restores the arch and overall alignment of the foot. Medial column stabilization. This stiffens the ray of the big toe to better support the arch. Lengthening of the Achilles tendon or Gastrocnemius. This will allow the ankle to move adequately once the alignment of the foot is corrected. Stage 3 acquired adult flatfoot deformity is treated operatively with a hindfoot fusion (arthrodesis). This is done with either a double or triple arthrodesis – fusion of two or three of the joints in hindfoot through which the deformity occurs. It is important when a hindfoot arthrodesis is performed that it be done in such a way that the underlying foot deformity is corrected first. Simply fusing the hindfoot joints in place is no longer acceptable.