Over 60 Million Americans suffer from Adult Acquired Flatfoot (AAF), otherwise known as Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction or PTTD. This condition generally occurs in adults from 40-65 years of age, and it usually only occurs in one foot, not both. The Posterior Tibial (PT) Tendon courses along the inside part of the ankle and underneath the arch of the foot. It is the major supporting structure for the arch. Over time, the tendon becomes diseased, from overuse, and starts to lose it's strength. As a result, the arch begins to collapse, placing further strain on the PT Tendon, leading to further decrease in tendon strength, which causes further collapse of the arch. This is described as a progressive deformity because it will generally get worse over time.
The cause of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is not completely understood. The condition commonly does not start from one acute trauma but is a process of gradual degeneration of the soft tissues supporting the medial (inner) side of the foot. It is most often associated with a foot that started out somewhat flat or pronated (rolled inward). This type of foot places more stress on the medial soft tissue structures, which include the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments on the inner side of the foot. Children nearly fully grown can end up with flat feet, the majority of which are no problem. However, if the deformity is severe enough it can cause significant functional limitations at that age and later on if soft tissue failure occurs. Also, young adults with normally aligned feet can acutely injure their posterior tibial tendon from a trauma and not develop deformity. The degenerative condition in patients beyond their twenties is different from the acute injuries in young patients or adolescent deformities, where progression of deformity is likely to occur.
PTTD begins with a gradual stretching and loss of strength of the posterior tibial tendon which is the most important tendon supporting the arch of the human foot. Left untreated, this tendon will continue to lengthen and eventually rupture, leading to a progressive visible collapse of the arch of the foot. In the early stages, patients with PTTD will notice a pain and swelling along the inner ankle and arch. Many times, they are diagnosed with ?tendonitis? of the inner ankle. If the foot and ankle are not properly supported during this early phase, the posterior tibial tendon can rupture and devastating consequences will occur to the foot and ankle structure. The progressive adult acquired flatfoot deformity will cause the heel to roll inward in a ?valgus? or pronated direction while the forefoot will rotate outward causing a ?duckfooted? walking pattern. Eventually, significant arthritis can occur in the joints of the foot, the ankle and even the knee. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical so if you have noticed that one, or both, of your feet has become flatter in recent times come in and have it checked out.
Clinicians need to recognize the early stage of this syndrome which includes pain, swelling, tendonitis and disability. The musculoskeletal portion of the clinical exam can help determine the stage of the disease. It is important to palpate the posterior tibial tendon and test its muscle strength. This is tested by asking patient to plantarflex and invert the foot. Joint range of motion is should be assessed as well. Stiffness of the joints may indicate longstanding disease causing a rigid deformity. A weightbearing examination should be performed as well. A complete absence of the medial longitudinal arch is often seen. In later stages the head of the talus bone projects outward to the point of a large "lump" in the arch. Observing the patient's feet from behind shows a significant valgus rotation of the heel. From behind, the "too many toes" sign may be seen as well. This is when there is abducution of the forefoot in the transverse plane allowing the toes to be seen from behind. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon can be assessed by asking the patient to stand on his/her toes on the affected foot. If they are unable to, this indicates the disease is in a more advanced stage with the tendon possibly completely ruptured.
Non surgical Treatment
Although AAF is not reversible without surgery, appropriate treatment should address the patient?s current symptoms, attempt to reduce pain, and allow continued ambulation. In the early stages, orthotic and pedorthic solutions can address the loss of integrity of the foot?s support structures, potentially inhibiting further destruction.3-5 As a general principle, orthotic devices should only block or limit painful or destructive motion without reducing or restricting normal motion or muscle function. Consequently, the treatment must match the stage of the deformity.
Surgery is usually performed when non-surgical measures have failed. The goal of surgery is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve a patient?s mobility. More than one technique may be used, and surgery tends to include one or more of the following. The tendon is reconstructed or replaced using another tendon in the foot or ankle The name of the technique depends on the tendon used. Flexor digitorum longus (FDL) transfer. Flexor hallucis longus (FHL) transfer. Tibialis anterior transfer (Cobb procedure). Calcaneal osteotomy - the heel bone may be shifted to bring your heel back under your leg and the position fixed with a screw. Lengthening of the Achilles tendon if it is particularly tight. Repair one of the ligaments under your foot. If you smoke, your surgeon may refuse to operate unless you can refrain from smoking before and during the healing phase of your procedure. Research has proven that smoking delays bone healing significantly.