Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) is a painful, chronic condition found most often in women between the ages of 40 and 60. AAFD occurs when the soft tissues of the foot are overstretched and torn, causing the arch to collapse. Flatfoot deformities may also be caused by a foot fracture, or may result from long-term arthritis. Once the posterior tibial tendon-the tendon unit that holds up the arch-loses its function, the foot becomes flat as the bones spread out of position during weight bearing. Without an AAFD repair, the condition may progress until the affected foot becomes entirely rigid and quite painful.
There are multiple factors contributing to the development of this problem. Damage to the nerves, ligaments, and/or tendons of the foot can cause subluxation (partial dislocation) of the subtalar or talonavicular joints. Bone fracture is a possible cause. The resulting joint deformity from any of these problems can lead to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon has always been linked with adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The loss of active and passive pull of the tendon alters the normal biomechanics of the foot and ankle. The reasons for this can be many and varied as well. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and prolonged use of steroids are some of the more common causes of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) brought on by impairment of the posterior tibialis tendon. Overstretching or rupture of the tendon results in tendon and muscle imbalance in the foot leading to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common causes. About half of all adults with this type of arthritis will develop adult flatfoot deformity over time. In such cases, the condition is gradual and progressive. Obesity has been linked with this condition. Loss of blood supply for any reason in the area of the posterior tibialis tendon is another factor. Other possible causes include bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, or a neurologic condition causing weakness.
Initially, flatfoot deformity may not present with any symptoms. However, overtime as the tendon continues to function in an abnormal position, people with fallen arches will begin to have throbbing or sharp pain along the inside of the arch. Once the tendon and soft tissue around it elongates, there is no strengthening exercises or mechanism to shorten the tendon back to a normal position. Flatfoot can also occur in one or both feet. If the arch starts to slowly collapse in one foot and not the other, posterior tibial dysfunction (PTTD) is the most likely cause. People with flatfoot may only have pain with certain activities such as running or exercise in the early phase of PTTD. Pain may start from the arch and continue towards the inside part of the foot and ankle where the tendon courses from the leg. Redness, swelling and increased warmth may also occur. Later signs of PTTD include pain on the outside of the foot from the arch collapsing and impinging other joints. Arthritic symptoms such as painful, swollen joints in the foot and ankle may occur later as well due to the increased stress on the joints from working in an abnormal position for a long period of time.
Diagnostic testing is often used to diagnose the condition and help determine the stage of the disease. The most common test done in the office setting are weightbearing X-rays of the foot and ankle. These assess joint alignment and osteoarthritis. If tendon tearing or rupture is suspected, the gold standard test would be MRI. The MRI is used to check the tendon, surrounding ligament structures and the midfoot and hindfoot joints. An MRI is essential if surgery is being considered.
Non surgical Treatment
Treatment depends very much upon a patient?s symptoms, functional goals, degree and specifics of deformity, and the presence of arthritis. Some patients get better without surgery. Rest and immobilization, orthotics, braces and physical therapy all may be appropriate. With early-stage disease that involves pain along the tendon, immobilization with a boot for a period of time can relieve stress on the tendon and reduce the inflammation and pain. Once these symptoms have resolved, patients are often transitioned into an orthotic that supports the inside aspect of the hindfoot. For patients with more significant deformity, a larger ankle brace may be necessary.
Flatfoot reconstruction (osteotomy). This is often recommended for flexible flatfoot condition. Flatfoot reconstruction involves cutting and shifting the heel bone into a more neutral position, transferring the tendon used to flex the lesser toes (all but the big toe) to strengthen the posterior tibial tendon, and lengthening the calf muscle. Fusion (also known as triple arthrodesis). Fusion involves fusing, or making stiff, three joints in the back of the foot the subtalar, talonavicular, and calcaneocuboid joints, to realign the foot and give it a more natural shape. Pins or screws hold the area in place until it heals. Fusion is often recommended for a rigid flatfoot deformity or evidence of arthritis. Both of these surgeries can provide excellent pain relief and correction.