Have you noticed that the medial arch of your foot is becoming flatter when you walk? You may be developing adult acquired flat foot. This condition is typically caused by a problem with a tendon on the medial side of your foot called the Posterior Tibial Tendon that is not functioning well. You may experience pain in the inner side of your foot when you walk. The affected foot appears to roll outwards (the sole of the foot is trying to face outwards) when you walk. This is called over-pronation of the foot. The back of your heel may start to point outwards (heel valgus). Over time you may lose the ability to tip toe on that foot as the posterior tibial tendon stretches out and it may eventually tear.
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.
Symptoms shift around a bit, depending on what stage of PTTD you?re in. For instance, you?re likely to start off with tendonitis, or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon. This will make the area around the inside of your ankle and possibly into your arch swollen, reddened, warm to the touch, and painful. Inflammation may actually last throughout the stages of PTTD. The ankle will also begin to roll towards the inside of the foot (pronate), your heel may tilt, and you may experience some pain in your leg (e.g. shin splints). As the condition progresses, the toes and foot begin to turn outward, so that when you look at your foot from the back (or have a friend look for you, because-hey-that can be kind of a difficult maneuver to pull off) more toes than usual will be visible on the outside (i.e. the side with the pinky toe). At this stage, the foot?s still going to be flexible, although it will likely have flattened somewhat due to the lack of support from the posterior tibial tendon. You may also find it difficult to stand on your toes. Finally, you may reach a stage in which your feet are inflexibly flat. At this point, you may experience pain below your ankle on the outside of your foot, and you might even develop arthritis in the ankle.
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
Initial treatment is based on the degree of deformity and flexibility at initial presentation. Conservative treatment includes orthotics or ankle foot orthoses (AFO) to support the posterior tibial tendon (PT) and the longitudinal arch, anti-inflammatories to help reduce pain and inflammation, activity modification which may include immobilization of the foot and physical therapy to help strengthen and rehabilitate the tendon.
In cases of PTTD that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. For some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.