Adult acquired flatfoot is one of the most common problems affecting the foot and ankle. Treatment ranges from nonsurgical methods, such as orthotics and braces to surgery. Your doctor will create a treatment plan for you based on what is causing your AAFD.
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.
Pain along the inside of the foot and ankle, where the tendon lies. This may or may not be associated with swelling in the area. Pain that is worse with activity. High-intensity or high-impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have trouble walking or standing for a long time. Pain on the outside of the ankle. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift to a new position outwards. This can put pressure on the outside ankle bone. The same type of pain is found in arthritis in the back of the foot. Asymmetrical collapsing of the medial arch on the affected side.
Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction is diagnosed with careful clinical observation of the patient?s gait (walking), range of motion testing for the foot and ankle joints, and diagnostic imaging. People with flatfoot deformity walk with the heel angled outward, also called over-pronation. Although it is normal for the arch to impact the ground for shock absorption, people with PTTD have an arch that fully collapses to the ground and does not reform an arch during the entire gait period. After evaluating the ambulation pattern, the foot and ankle range of motion should be tested. Usually the affected foot will have decreased motion to the ankle joint and the hindfoot. Muscle strength may also be weaker as well. An easy test to perform for PTTD is the single heel raise where the patient is asked to raise up on the ball of his or her effected foot. A normal foot type can lift up on the toes without pain and the heel will invert slightly once the person has fully raised the heel up during the test. In early phases of PTTD the patient may be able to lift up the heel but the heel will not invert. An elongated or torn posterior tibial tendon, which is a mid to late finding of PTTD, will prohibit the patient from fully rising up on the heel and will cause intense pain to the arch. Finally diagnostic imaging, although used alone cannot diagnose PTTD, can provide additional information for an accurate diagnosis of flatfoot deformity. Xrays of the foot can show the practitioner important angular relationships of the hindfoot and forefoot which help diagnose flatfoot deformity. Most of the time, an MRI is not needed to diagnose PTTD but is a tool that should be considered in advanced cases of flatfoot deformity. If a partial tear of the posterior tibial tendon is of concern, then an MRI can show the anatomic location of the tear and the extensiveness of the injury.
Non surgical Treatment
The adult acquired flatfoot is best treated early. Accurate assessment by your doctor will determine which treatment is suitable for you. Reduce your level of activity and follow the RICE regime. R - rest as often as you are able. Refrain from activity that will worsen your condition, such as sports and walking. I - ice, apply to the affected area, ensure you protect the area from frostbite by applying a towel over the foot before using the ice pack. C - compression, a Tubigrip or elasticated support bandage may be applied to relieve symptoms and ease pain and discomfort. E - elevate the affected foot to reduce painful swelling. You will be prescribed pain relief in the form of non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications (if you do not suffer with allergies or are asthmatic). Immobilisation of your affected foot - this will involve you having a below the knee cast for four to eight weeks. In certain circumstances it is possible for you to have a removable boot instead of a cast. A member of the foot and ankle team will advise as to whether this option is suitable for you. Footwear is important - it is advisable to wear flat sturdy lace-up shoes, for example, trainers or boots. This will not only support your foot, but will also accommodate orthoses (shoe inserts).
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. Symptomatic flexible flatfoot conditions are common entities in both the adolescent and adult populations. Ligamentous laxity and equinus play a significant role in most adolescent deformities. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is the most common cause of adult acquired flatfoot. One should consider surgical treatment for patients who have failed nonoperative therapy and have advancing symptoms and deformities that significantly interfere with the functional demands of daily life. Isolated Joint Fusion. This technique is used for well reducible flat foot by limiting motion at one or two joints that are usually arthritic. The Evans Anterior Calcaneal Osteotomy. This is indicated for late stage II adult acquired flatfoot and the flexible adolescent flatfoot. This procedure will address midtarsal instability, restore the medial longitudinal arch and reduce mild hind foot valgus. The Posterior Calcaneal Displacement Osteotomy (PCDO). This technique is indicated for late stage I and early stage II PTTD with reducible Calcaneal valgus. This is often combined with a tendon transfer. A PCDO is also indicated as an adjunctive procedure in the surgical reconstruction of the severe flexible adolescent flatfoot. Soft tissue procedure. On their own these are not very effective but in conjunction with an osseous procedure, soft tissue procedures can produce good outcome. Common ones are tendon and capsular repair, tendon lengthening and transfer procedures. Flat foot correction requires lengthy post operative period and a lot of patience. Your foot may need surgery but you might simply not have the time or endurance to go through the rehab phase of this type of surgery. We will discuss these and type of procedures necessary for your surgery in length before we go further with any type of intervention.