Another common term for this condition is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction (PTTD). There is a cause-effect relationship between pronation, flatfoot deformity and subsequent tenosynovitis of the posterior tibial tendon. Mechanical irritation of the tendon may lead to synovitis, partial tearing and eventually full rupture of the tendon. Other structures, including ligaments and the plantar fascia, have also been shown to contribute to the arch collapsing. As the deformity progresses, these structures have been shown to attenuate and rupture as well. In later stages, subluxation of various joints lead to a valgus rearfoot and transverse plane deformity of the forefoot. These deformities can become fixed and irreducible as significant osteoarthritis sets in.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the 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. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
The diagnosis of tibialis posterior dysfunction is essentially clinical. However, plain radiographs of the foot and ankle are useful for assessing the degree of deformity and to confirm the presence or absence of degenerative changes in the subtalar and ankle articulations. The radiographs are also useful to exclude other causes of an acquired flatfoot deformity. The most useful radiographs are bilateral anteroposterior and lateral radiographs of the foot and a mortise (true anteroposterior) view of the ankle. All radiographs should be done with the patient standing. In most cases we see no role for magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasonography, as the diagnosis can be made clinically.
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.
Good to excellent results for more than 80% of patients have been reported at five years’ follow up for the surgical interventions recommended below. However, the postoperative recovery is a lengthy process, and most surgical procedures require patients to wear a plaster cast for two to three months. Although many patients report that their function is well improved by six months, in our experience a year is required to recover truly and gain full functional improvement after the surgery. Clearly, some patients are not candidates for such major reconstructive surgery.