Adults with an acquired flatfoot deformity may present not with foot deformity but almost uniformly with medial foot pain and decreased function of the affected foot. Patients whose acquired flatfoot is associated with a more generalised medical problem tend to receive their diagnosis and are referred appropriately. However, in patients whose ?adult acquired flatfoot deformity? is a result of damage to the structures supporting the medial longitudinal arch, the diagnosis is often not made early. These patients are often otherwise healthier and tend to be relatively more affected by the loss of function resulting from an acquired flatfoot deformity. The most common cause of an acquired flatfoot deformity in an otherwise healthy adult is dysfunction of the tibialis posterior tendon, and this review provides an outline to its diagnosis and treatment.
The posterior tibial tendon, which connects the bones inside the foot to the calf, is responsible for supporting the foot during movement and holding up the arch. Gradual stretching and tearing of the posterior tibial tendon can cause failure of the ligaments in the arch. Without support, the bones in the feet fall out of normal position, rolling the foot inward. The foot's arch will collapse completely over time, resulting in adult acquired flatfoot. The ligaments and tendons holding up the arch can lose elasticity and strength as a result of aging. Obesity, diabetes, and hypertension can increase the risk of developing this condition. Adult acquired flatfoot is seen more often in women than in men and in those 40 or older.
The types of symptoms that may indicate Adult-Acquired Flat Foot Deformity include foot pain that worsens over time, loss of the arch, abnormal shoe wear (excessive wearing on the inner side of shoe from walking on the inner side of the foot) and an awkward appearance of the foot and ankle (when viewed from behind, heel and toes appear to go out to the side). It is important that we help individuals recognize the early symptoms of this condition, as there are many treatment options, depending upon the severity, the age of the patient, and the desired activity levels.
Looking at the patient when they stand will usually demonstrate a flatfoot deformity (marked flattening of the medial longitudinal arch). The front part of the foot (forefoot) is often splayed out to the side. This leads to the presence of a ?too many toes? sign. This sign is present when the toes can be seen from directly behind the patient. The gait is often somewhat flatfooted as the patient has the dysfunctional posterior tibial tendon can no longer stabilize the arch of the foot. The physician?s touch will often demonstrate tenderness and sometimes swelling over the inside of the ankle just below the bony prominence (the medial malleolus). There may also be pain in the outside aspect of the ankle. This pain originates from impingement or compression of two tendons between the outside ankle bone (fibula) and the heel bone (calcaneus) when the patient is standing.
Non surgical Treatment
Flatfoot deformity can be treated conservatively or with surgical intervention depending on the severity of the condition. When people notice their arches flattening, they should immediately avoid non-supportive shoes such as flip-flops, sandals or thin-soled tennis shoes. Theses shoes will only worsen the flatfoot deformity and exacerbate arch pain. Next, custom orthotics are essential for people with collapsed arches. Over-the-counter insoles only provide cushion and padding to the arch, whereas custom orthotics are fabricated to specifically fit the patient?s foot and provide support in the arch where the posterior tibial tendon is unable to anymore. Use of custom orthotics in the early phases of flatfoot or PTTD can prevent worsening of symptoms and prevent further attenuation or injury to the posterior tibial tendon. In more severe cases of flatfoot deformity an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) such as a Ritchie brace is needed. This brace provides more support to the arch and hindfoot rather than an orthotic but can be bulky in normal shoegear. Additional treatment along with use of custom orthotics is use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as Advil, Motrin, or Ibuprofen which can decrease inflammation to the posterior tibial tendon. If pain is severe, the patient may need to be placed in a below the knee air walker boot for several weeks which will allow the tendon to rest and heal, especially if a posterior tibial tendon tear is noted on MRI.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions. (See surgical correction of adult acquired flatfoot). Patients with adult acquired flatfoot are advised to discuss thoroughly the benefits vs. risks of all surgical options. Most procedures have long-term recovery mandating that the correct procedure be utilized to give the best long-term benefit. Most flatfoot surgical procedures require six to twelve weeks of cast immobilization. Joint fusion procedures require eight weeks of non-weightbearing on the operated foot - meaning you will be on crutches for two months. The bottom line is, Make sure all of your non-surgical options have been covered before considering surgery. Your primary goals with any treatment are to eliminate pain and improve mobility. In many cases, with the properly designed foot orthosis or ankle brace, these goals can be achieved without surgical intervention.