Adult flatfoot may be due to multiple problems including a dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon (PTT), hypermobility and ligamentous laxity, or possibly a coalition that becomes symptomatic. For a vast majority of patients, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is the cause of symptomatic flatfoot and is the main trigger of surgical reconstruction in flatfoot. The common presenting scenario for adult flatfoot is a case of unilateral flatfoot with pain. Patients will often confirm they always had flat feet but have noticed increased pain and additional collapse in the past few months to years. They may also note increased swelling and a possible concern over one foot increasing in shoe size. After a comprehensive dermatologic, neurologic and vascular assessment, one should direct his or her attention to the musculoskeletal portion of the exam. It is key to examine the foot and leg as a whole in order to determine the proper procedure and consider each phase of the corrective surgery.
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.
Often, this condition is only present in one foot, but it can affect both. Adult acquired flatfoot symptoms vary, but can swelling of the foot’s inner side and aching heel and arch pain. Some patients experience no pain, but others may experience severe pain. Symptoms may increase during long periods of standing, resulting in fatigue. Symptoms may change over time as the condition worsens. The pain may move to the foot’s outer side, and some patients may develop arthritis in the ankle and foot.
First, both feet should be examined with the patient standing and the entire lower extremity visible. The foot should be inspected from above as well as from behind the patient, as valgus angulation of the hindfoot is best appreciated when the foot is viewed from behind. Johnson described the so-called more-toes sign: with more advanced deformity and abduction of the forefoot, more of the lateral toes become visible when the foot is viewed from behind. The single-limb heel-rise test is an excellent determinant of the function of the posterior tibial tendon. The patient is asked to attempt to rise onto the ball of one foot while the other foot is suspended off the floor. Under normal circumstances, the posterior tibial muscle, which inverts and stabilizes the hindfoot, is activated as the patient begins to rise onto the forefoot. The gastrocnemius-soleus muscle group then elevates the calcaneus, and the heel-rise is accomplished. With dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, however, inversion of the heel is weak, and either the heel remains in valgus or the patient is unable to rise onto the forefoot. If the patient can do a single-limb heel-rise, the limb may be stressed further by asking the patient to perform this maneuver repetitively.
Non surgical Treatment
Depending on the stage of the deformity and patient?s functional goals, various treatment options are available. Some patients improve with conservative care which includes rest and immobilization, shoe modifications, orthoses and bracing, or physical therapy. Surgery might be warranted for advanced stages of the condition. Often a combination of procedures including tendon and muscle augmentation, tendon transfers, realigning of bones or fusion of certain joints might be necessary in more advanced cases. Your doctor will evaluate and recommend an individualized plan of care with your specific needs in mind.
When conservative care fails to control symptoms and/or deformity, then surgery may be needed. The goal of surgical treatment is to obtain good alignment while keeping the foot and ankle as flexible as possible. The most common procedures used with this condition include arthrodesis (fusion), osteotomy (cutting out a wedge-shaped piece of bone), and lateral column lengthening. Lateral column lengthening involves the use of a bone graft at the calcaneocuboid joint. This procedure helps restore the medial longitudinal arch (arch along the inside of the foot). A torn tendon or spring ligament will be repaired or reconstructed. Other surgical options include tendon shortening or lengthening. Or the surgeon may move one or more tendons. This procedure is called a tendon transfer. Tendon transfer uses another tendon to help the posterior tibial tendon function more effectively. A tendon transfer is designed to change the force and angle of pull on the bones of the arch. It’s not clear yet from research evidence which surgical procedure works best for this condition. A combination of surgical treatments may be needed. It may depend on your age, type and severity of deformity and symptoms, and your desired level of daily activity.