Most flat feet are not painful, particularly those flat feet seen in children. In the adult acquired flatfoot, pain occurs because soft tissues (tendons and ligaments) have been torn. The deformity progresses or worsens because once the vital ligaments and posterior tibial tendon are lost, nothing can take their place to hold up the arch of the foot. The painful, progressive adult acquired flatfoot affects women four times as frequently as men. It occurs in middle to older age people with a mean age of 60 years. Most people who develop the condition already have flat feet. A change occurs in one foot where the arch begins to flatten more than before, with pain and swelling developing on the inside of the ankle. Why this event occurs in some people (female more than male) and only in one foot remains poorly understood. Contributing factors increasing the risk of adult acquired flatfoot are diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot deformity. There is often no specific event that starts the problem, such as a sudden tendon injury. More commonly, the tendon becomes injured from cumulative wear and tear. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction occurs more commonly in patients who already have a flat foot for other reasons. As the arch flattens, more stress is placed on the posterior tibial tendon and also on the ligaments on the inside of the foot and ankle. The result is a progressive disorder.
The symptoms of PTTD may include pain, swelling, a flattening of the arch, and inward rolling of the ankle. As the condition progresses, the symptoms will change. For example, later, as the arch begins to flatten, there may still be pain on the inside of the foot and ankle. But at this point, the foot and toes begin to turn outward and the ankle rolls inward. As PTTD becomes more advanced, the arch flattens even more and the pain often shifts to the outside of the foot, below the ankle. The tendon has deteriorated considerably and arthritis often develops in the foot. In more severe cases, arthritis may also develop in the ankle. Symptoms, which may occur in some persons with flexible flatfoot, include. Pain in the heel, arch, ankle, or along the outside of the foot. ?Turned-in? ankle. Pain associated with a shin splint. General weakness / fatigue in the foot or leg.
There are four stages of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The severity of the deformity determines your stage. For example, Stage I means there is a flatfoot position but without deformity. Pain and swelling from tendinitis is common in this stage. Stage II there is a change in the foot alignment. This means a deformity is starting to develop. The physician can still move the bones back into place manually (passively). Stage III adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) tells us there is a fixed deformity. This means the ankle is stiff or rigid and doesn???t move beyond a neutral (midline) position. Stage IV is characterized by deformity in the foot and the ankle. The deformity may be flexible or fixed. The joints often show signs of degenerative joint disease (arthritis).
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.
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss.
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