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.
The cause of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is not completely understood. The condition commonly does not start from one acute trauma but is a process of gradual degeneration of the soft tissues supporting the medial (inner) side of the foot. It is most often associated with a foot that started out somewhat flat or pronated (rolled inward). This type of foot places more stress on the medial soft tissue structures, which include the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments on the inner side of the foot. Children nearly fully grown can end up with flat feet, the majority of which are no problem. However, if the deformity is severe enough it can cause significant functional limitations at that age and later on if soft tissue failure occurs. Also, young adults with normally aligned feet can acutely injure their posterior tibial tendon from a trauma and not develop deformity. The degenerative condition in patients beyond their twenties is different from the acute injuries in young patients or adolescent deformities, where progression of deformity is likely to occur.
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.
Although you can do the "wet test" at home, a thorough examination by a doctor will be needed to identify why the flatfoot developed. Possible causes include a congenital abnormality, a bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, arthritis or neurologic weakness. For example, an inability to rise up on your toes while standing on the affected foot may indicate damage to the posterior tibial tendon (PTT), which supports the heel and forms the arch. If "too many toes" show on the outside of your foot when the doctor views you from the rear, your shinbone (tibia) may be sliding off the anklebone (talus), another indicator of damage to the PTT. Be sure to wear your regular shoes to the examination. An irregular wear pattern on the bottom of the shoe is another indicator of acquired adult flatfoot. Your physician may request X-rays to see how the bones of your feet are aligned. Muscle and tendon strength are tested by asking you to move the foot while the doctor holds it.
Non surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for most patients consists of rest and anti-inflammatory medications. This will help reduce the swelling and pain associated with the condition. The long term treatment for the problem usually involves custom made orthotics and supportive shoe gear to prevent further breakdown of the foot. ESWT(extracorporeal shock wave therapy) is a novel treatment which uses sound wave technology to stimulate blood flow to the tendon to accelerate the healing process. This can help lead to a more rapid return to normal activities for most patients. If treatment is initiated early in the process, most patients can experience a return to normal activities without the need for surgery.
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. Surgical treatment may include repairing the tendon, tendon transfers, realigning the bones of the foot, joint fusions, or both. Dr. Piccarelli will determine the best approach for your specific case. A variety of surgical techniques is available to correct flexible flatfoot. Your case may require one procedure or a combination of procedures. All of these surgical techniques are aimed at relieving the symptoms and improving foot function. Among these procedures are tendon transfers or tendon lengthening procedures, realignment of one or more bones, or insertion of implant devices. Whether you have flexible flatfoot or PTTD, to select the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, Dr. Piccarelli will take into consideration the extent of your deformity based on the x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.
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