Originally known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or insufficiency, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity encompasses a wide range of deformities. These deformities vary in location, severity, and rate of progression. Establishing a diagnosis as early as possible is one of the most important factors in treatment. Prompt early, aggressive nonsurgical management is important. A patient in whom such treatment fails should strongly consider surgical correction to avoid worsening of the deformity. In all four stages of deformity, the goal of surgery is to achieve proper alignment and maintain as much flexibility as possible in the foot and ankle complex. However, controversy remains as to how to manage flexible deformities, especially those that are severe.
Causes of an adult acquired flatfoot may include Neuropathic foot (Charcot foot) secondary to Diabetes mellitus, Leprosy, Profound peripheral neuritis of any cause. Degenerative changes in the ankle, talonavicular or tarsometatarsal joints, or both, secondary to Inflammatory arthropathy, Osteoarthropathy, Fractures, Acquired flatfoot resulting from loss of the supporting structures of the medial longitudinal arch. Dysfunction of the tibialis posterior tendon Tear of the spring (calcaneoanvicular) ligament (rare). Tibialis anterior rupture (rare). Painful flatfoot can have other causes, such as tarsal coalition, but as such a patient will not present with a change in the shape of the foot these are not included here.
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.
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.