The adult acquired flatfoot (AAF) is a progressive, symptomatic (painful) deformity resulting from gradual stretch (attenuation) of the tibialis posterior tendon as well as the ligaments that support the arch of the foot. Although the posterior tibialis tendon plays a significant role, this pathology has recently been recognized as involving failure of other interosseous ligaments, such as the spring ligament. Due to the complexity of this pathology, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is now referred to as adult acquired flatfoot. Severe flatfoot associated with AAF can lead to other problems, such as plantar fascial tension, tendon pain, rearfoot subluxation, and ankle osteoarthritis.
Flat feet causes greater pressure on the posterior tibial tendon than normal. As the person with flat feet ages, the muscles, tendons and ligaments weaken. Blood supplies diminish as arteries narrow. These conditions are magnified for obese patients because of their increased weight and atherosclerosis. Finally, the tendon gives out or tears. Most of the time, this is a slow process. Once the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments stretch, body weight causes the bones of the arch to move out of position. The foot rotates inward (pronation), the heel bone is tilted to the inside, and the arch appears collapsed. In some cases, the deformity progresses until the foot dislocates outward from the ankle joint.
Patients will usually describe their initial symptoms as "ankle pain", as the PT Tendon becomes painful around the inside of the ankle joint. The pain will become more intense as the foot flattens out, due to the continued stretching and tearing of the PT Tendon. As the arches continue to fall, and pronation increases, the heel bone (Calcaneus) tilts into a position where it pinches against the ankle bone (Fibula), causing pain on both the inside and outside of the ankle. As the foot spends increased time in a flattened, or deformed position, Arthritis can begin to affect the joints of the foot, causing additional pain.
There are four stages of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The severity of the deformity determines your stage. For example, Stage I means there is a flatfoot position but without deformity. Pain and swelling from tendinitis is common in this stage. Stage II there is a change in the foot alignment. This means a deformity is starting to develop. The physician can still move the bones back into place manually (passively). Stage III adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) tells us there is a fixed deformity. This means the ankle is stiff or rigid and doesn???t move beyond a neutral (midline) position. Stage IV is characterized by deformity in the foot and the ankle. The deformity may be flexible or fixed. The joints often show signs of degenerative joint disease (arthritis).
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative treatment of stage 1 and 2 acquired adult flatfoot deformity can be successful. General components of the treatment include the use of comfort shoes. Activity modification to avoid exacerbating activities. Weight loss if indicated. Specific components of treatment that over time can lead to marked improvement in symptoms include a high repetition, low resistance strengthening program. Appropriate bracing or a medial longitudinal arch support. If the posterior tibial tendon is intact, a series of exercises aimed at strengthening the elongated and dysfunctional tendon complex can be successful. In stage 2 deformities, this is combined with an ankle brace for a period of 2-3 months until the symptoms resolve. At this point, the patient is transitioned to an orthotic insert which may help to support the arch. In patients with stage 1 deformity it may be possible to use an arch support immediately.
If cast immobilization fails, surgery is the next alternative. Treatment goals include eliminating pain, halting deformity progression and improving mobility. Subtalar Arthroereisis, 15 minute outpatient procedure, may correct flexible flatfoot deformity (hyperpronation). The procedure involves placing an implant under the ankle joint (sinus tarsi) to prevent abnormal motion. Very little recovery time is required and it is completely reversible if necessary. Ask your Dallas foot doctor for more information about this exciting treatment possibility.