Collapsed arches occur in five percent of adults 40 years and older, especially those who are overweight or maintain sedentary lifestyles. At the onset of the condition, adult acquired flatfoot can be controlled with anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, taping, bracing, and orthotics. While most cases of adult-onset flatfoot require surgery, congenital flatfoot is an entirely different condition that is best treated with orthotics in children. Ninety percent of children born with flat feet will be fine with conservative treatment.
As the name suggests, adult-acquired flatfoot occurs once musculoskeletal maturity is reached, and it can present for a number of reasons, though one stands out among the others. While fractures, dislocations, tendon lacerations, and other such traumatic events do contribute to adult-acquired flatfoot as a significant lower extremity disorder, as mentioned above, damage to the posterior tibial tendon is most often at the heart of adult-acquired flatfoot. One study further elaborates on the matter by concluding that ?60% of patients [presenting with posterior tibial tendon damage and adult-acquired flatfoot] were obese or had diabetes mellitus, hypertension, previous surgery or trauma to the medial foot, or treatment with steroids?.
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.
In the early stages of dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, most of the discomfort is located medially along the course of the tendon and the patient reports fatigue and aching on the plantar-medial aspect of the foot and ankle. Swelling is common if the dysfunction is associated with tenosynovitis. As dysfunction of the tendon progresses, maximum pain occurs laterally in the sinus tarsi because of impingement of the fibula against the calcaneus. With increasing deformity, patients report that the shape of the foot changes and that it becomes increasingly difficult to wear shoes. Many patients no longer report pain in the medial part of the foot and ankle after a complete rupture of the posterior tibial tendon has occurred; instead, the pain is located laterally. If a fixed deformity has not occurred, the patient may report that standing or walking with the hindfoot slightly inverted alleviates the lateral impingement and relieves the pain in the lateral part of the foot.
Non surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment is indicated for nearly all patients initially before surgical management is considered. The key factors in determining appropriate treatment are whether acute inflammation and whether the foot deformity is flexible or fixed. However, the ultimate treatment is often determined by the patients, most of whom are women aged 40 or older. Compliance can be a problem, especially in stages I and II. It helps to emphasise to the patients that tibialis posterior dysfunction is a progressive and chronic condition and that several fittings and a trial of several different orthoses or treatments are often needed before a tolerable treatment is found.
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.