Often considered solely a product of genetics, flatfoot rarely carries with it the stigma of presenting over time. The truth, however, is that flatfoot does not discriminate on the basis of age and can become an issue in the form of adult-acquired flatfoot. Like its congenital cousin, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity is one that, in causing structural damage to the foot (and particularly to the posterior tibial tendon), creates an imbalance that may result in any number of symptoms, including inflammation, pain, stiffness, limited mobility, and even arthritis.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
As different types of flatfoot have different causes, the associated symptoms can be different for different people. Some generalized symptoms are listed. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running and jumping, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time and may experience pain at the inside of the ankle and in the arch of the foot. Feeling like one is ?dragging their foot.? When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain in the bones and tendons in the outside of the ankle joint. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoe wear very difficult. Sometimes, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetic patients may not experience pain if they have damage to their nerves. They may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoe wear is not used.
It is of great importance to have a full evaluation, by a foot and ankle specialist with expertise in addressing complex flatfoot deformities. No two flat feet are alike; therefore, “Universal” treatment plans do not exist for the Adult Flatfoot. It is important to have a custom treatment plan that is tailored to your specific foot. That starts by first understanding all the intricacies of your foot, through an extensive evaluation. X-rays of the foot and ankle are standard, and MRI may be used to better assess the quality of the PT Tendon.
Non surgical Treatment
Depending on the stage of the deformity and patient?s functional goals, various treatment options are available. Some patients improve with conservative care which includes rest and immobilization, shoe modifications, orthoses and bracing, or physical therapy. Surgery might be warranted for advanced stages of the condition. Often a combination of procedures including tendon and muscle augmentation, tendon transfers, realigning of bones or fusion of certain joints might be necessary in more advanced cases. Your doctor will evaluate and recommend an individualized plan of care with your specific needs in mind.
If surgery is necessary, a number of different procedures may be considered. The specifics of the planned surgery depend upon the stage of the disorder and the patient?s specific goals. Procedures may include ligament and muscle lengthening, removal of the inflamed tendon lining, tendon transfers, cutting and realigning bones, placement of implants to realign the foot and joint fusions. In general, early stage disease may be treated with tendon and ligament (soft-tissue) procedures with the addition of osteotomies to realign the foot. Later stage disease with either a rigidly fixed deformity or with arthritis is often treated with fusion procedures. If you are considering surgery, your doctor will speak with about the specifics of the planned procedure.