For many adults, years of wear and tear on the feet can lead to a gradual and potentially debilitating collapse of the arch. However, a new treatment approach based on early surgical intervention is achieving a high rate of longterm success. Based on results of clinical studies of adults with flat feet, we now believe that reconstructive surgery in the early stages of the condition can prevent complications later on. Left untreated, the arch eventually will collapse, causing debilitating arthritis in the foot and ankle. At this end stage, surgical fusions are often required to stabilize the foot.
Damage to the posterior tendon from overuse is the most common cause for adult acquired flatfoot. Running, walking, hiking, and climbing stairs are activities that add stress to this tendon, and this overuse can lead to damage. Obesity, previous ankle surgery or trauma, diabetes (Charcot foot), and rheumatoid arthritis are other common risk factors.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms here. 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, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. 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 shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, 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. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
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
Get treated early. There is no recommended home treatment. While in stage one of the deformity, rest, a cast, and anti-inflammatory therapy can help you find relief. This treatment is followed by creating custom-molded foot orthoses and orthopedic footwear. These customized items are critical in maintaining the stability of the foot and ankle. Once the tendon has stretched and deformity is visible, the chances of success for non-surgical treatment are significantly lower. In a small percentage of patients, total immobilization may arrest the progression of the deformity. A long-term brace known as an ankle foot orthosis is required to keep the deformity from progressing. The Richie Brace, a type of ankle foot orthosis, shows significant success as a treatment for stage two posterior tibial dysfunction. It is a sport-style brace connected to a custom corrected foot orthodic that fits into most lace-up footwear (including athletic shoes). It is also light weight and more cosmetically appealing than traditionally prescribed ankle foot orthosis. The Arizona Brace, California Brace or Gauntlet Brace may also be recommended depending on your needs.
For those patients with PTTD that have severe deformity or have not improved with conservative treatments, surgery may be necessary to return them to daily activity. Surgery for PTTD may include repair of the diseased tendon and possible tendon transfer to a nearby healthy tendon, surgery on the surrounding bones or joints to prevent biomechanical abnormalities that may be a contributing factor or both.