Have you noticed the arch in your foot collapse over a fairly short period of time as an adult? Or Do you suffer from pain on the inside and sole of your arch? If it does, then you may be suffering from a condition known as adult acquired flat foot. As one of the main support structures of the foot?s arch, the tibilais posterior tendon, along with other muscles, tendons and ligaments, play a very important role in its mechanical function.
Adult flatfoot typically occurs very gradually. If often develops in an obese person who already has somewhat flat feet. As the person ages, the tendons and ligaments that support the foot begin to lose their strength and elasticity.
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.
Starting from the knee down, check for any bowing of the tibia. A tibial varum will cause increased medial stress on the foot and ankle. This is essential to consider in surgical planning. Check the gastrocnemius muscle and Achilles complex via a straight and bent knee check for equinus. If the range of motion improves to at least neutral with bent knee testing of the Achilles complex, one may consider a gastrocnemius recession. If the Achilles complex is still tight with bent knee testing, an Achilles lengthening may be necessary. Check the posterior tibial muscle along its entire course. Palpate the muscle and observe the tendon for strength with a plantarflexion and inversion stress test. Check the flexor muscles for strength in order to see if an adequate transfer tendon is available. Check the anterior tibial tendon for size and strength.
Non surgical Treatment
In the early stages, simple pre-fabricated orthotics can help improve the heel position to reduce the mechanical load which is contributing to the symptoms. In advanced stages or long term orthotic use, a plaster of paris or foam box cast can be taken and specific bespoke orthotics manufactured. If the condition develops further a AFO (ankle foot orthotic) may be necessary for greater control. In more advanced stages of symptomatic Adult Acquired flat feet, where the conservative methods of treatment have failed there are various forms of surgery available depending upon the root cause of the issue and severity.
The indications for surgery are persistent pain and/or significant deformity. Sometimes the foot just feels weak and the assessment of deformity is best done by a foot and ankle specialist. If surgery is appropriate, a combination of soft tissue and bony procedures may be considered to correct alignment and support the medial arch, taking strain off failing ligaments. Depending upon the tissues involved and extent of deformity, the foot and ankle specialist will determine the necessary combination of procedures. Surgical procedures may include a medial slide calcaneal osteotomy to correct position of the heel, a lateral column lengthening to correct position in the midfoot and a medial cuneiform osteotomy or first metatarsal-tarsal fusion to correct elevation of the medial forefoot. The posterior tibial tendon may be reconstructed with a tendon transfer. In severe cases (stage III), the reconstruction may include fusion of the hind foot,, resulting in stiffness of the hind foot but the desired pain relief. In the most severe stage (stage IV), the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle fails, resulting in the deformity in the ankle. This deformity over time can result in arthritis in the ankle.