Adult acquired flatfoot is often a complex disorder, with diverse symptoms and varying degrees of deformity and disability. There are several types of flatfoot, all of which have one characteristic in common-partial or total collapse (loss) of the arch. Other characteristics shared by most types of flatfoot include ?Toe drift,? where the toes and front part of the foot point outward. The heel tilts toward the outside and the ankle appears to turn in. A short Achilles tendon or calf muscle, which causes the heel to lift off the ground earlier when walking and may act as a deforming force. In addition, other deformities such bunions and hammertoes can occur and cause pain in people with flexible flatfoot. Health problems such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and obesity can increase the risk of developing flatfoot and may (or may not) make it more difficult to treat. This article provides a brief overview of the problems that can result in AAFD. Further details regarding the most common conditions that cause an acquired flatfoot and their treatment options are provided in separate articles. Links to those articles are provided.
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.
Posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is divided into stages by most foot and ankle specialists. In stage I, there is pain along the posterior tibial tendon without deformity or collapse of the arch. The patient has the somewhat flat or normal-appearing foot they have always had. In stage II, deformity from the condition has started to occur, resulting in some collapse of the arch, which may or may not be noticeable. The patient may feel it as a weakness in the arch. Many patients initially present in stage II, as the ligament failure can occur at the same time as the tendon failure and therefore deformity can already be occurring as the tendon is becoming symptomatic. In stage III, the deformity has progressed to the extent where the foot becomes fixed (rigid) in its deformed position. Finally, in stage IV, deformity occurs at the ankle in addition to the deformity in the foot.
Your podiatrist is very familiar with tendons that have just about had enough, and will likely be able to diagnose this condition by performing a physical exam of your foot. He or she will probably examine the area visually and by feel, will inquire about your medical history (including past pain or injuries), and may also observe your feet as you walk. You may also be asked to attempt standing on your toes. This may be done by having you lift your ?good? foot (the one without the complaining tendon) off the ground, standing only on your problem foot. (You may be instructed to place your hands against the wall to help with balance.) Then, your podiatrist will ask you to try to go up on your toes on the bad foot. If you have difficulty doing so, it may indicate a problem with your posterior tibial tendon. Some imaging technology may be used to diagnose this condition, although it?s more likely the doctor will rely primarily on a physical exam. However, he or she may order scans such as an MRI or CT scan to look at your foot?s interior, and X-rays might also be helpful in a diagnosis.
Non surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment consists of custom orthoses and or special bracing devices along with supportive measures aimed at reducing the symptoms. While non-surgical treatment helps the majority of patients with PTTD, progressive cases may require surgical treatment including soft tissue tendon transfers, osteotomies and lastly fusion.
A new type of surgery has been developed in which surgeons can re-construct the flat foot deformity and also the deltoid ligament using a tendon called the peroneus longus. A person is able to function fully without use of the peroneus longus but they can also be taken from deceased donors if needed. The new surgery was performed on four men and one woman. An improved alignment of the ankle was still evident nine years later, and all had good mobility 8 to 10 years after the surgery. None had developed arthritis.