One in four adults in the U.S. has adult acquired flatfoot deformity, which may begin during childhood or be acquired with age. The foot may be flat all the time or may lose its arch when the person stands. The most common and serious cause of flat foot is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction, in which the main tendon that supports the arch gradually weakens.
There are a number of theories as to why the tendon becomes inflamed and stops working. It may be related to the poor blood supply within the tendon. Increasing age, inflammatory arthritis, diabetes and obesity have been found to be causes.
The first stage represents inflammation and symptoms originating from an irritated posterior tibial tendon, which is still functional. Stage two is characterized by a change in the alignment of the foot noted on observation while standing (see above photos). The deformity is supple meaning the foot is freely movable and a ?normal? position can be restored by the examiner. Stage two is also associated with the inability to perform a single-leg heel rise. The third stage is dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a flatfoot deformity that becomes stiff because of arthritis. Prolonged deformity causes irritation to the involved joints resulting in arthritis. The fourth phase is a flatfoot deformity either supple (stage two) or stiff (stage 3) with involvement of the ankle joint. This occurs when the deltoid ligament, the major supporting structure on the inside of the ankle, fails to provide support. The ankle becomes unstable and will demonstrate a tilted appearance on X-ray. Failure of the deltoid ligament results from an inward displacement of the weight bearing forces. When prolonged, this change can lead to ankle arthritis. The vast majority of patients with acquired adult flatfoot deformity are stage 2 by the time they seek treatment from a physician.
Examination by your foot and ankle specialist can confirm the diagnosis for most patients. An ultrasound exam performed in the office setting can evaluate the status of the posterior tibial tendon, the tendon which is primarily responsible for supporting the arch structure of the foot.
Non surgical Treatment
Orthoses (insoles, functional orthoses, ankle supports, braces, ankle foot orthoses (AFOs)) - are usually custom-made to increase the functional stability of the foot and improve the mechanical properties of the tendon as well as reducing the actual degree of strain on the tendon. This reduces pain and inflammation. Physiotherapy - exercises and physiotherapy are often used to increase mobility, strengthen the tendon itself, stretch your Achilles tendon as well as reduce pain. Once the tendon has been stretched (stage one), the heel starts rolling outwards. Total immobilisation in a cast may help the symptoms to subside and prevent progression of the deformity in a smaller percentage of patients. Long-term use of orthoses may help stop progression of the deformity and reduce pain without surgery. Non-surgical treatment is unlikely to prevent progression to stage three and four but may be chosen by some patients who either are unsuitable for surgery or prefer not to have surgery.
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.