Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD or AAF) is a progressive, symptomatic deformity resulting from gradual stretch of the posterior tibial tendon as well as other ligaments supporting the arch of the foot. AAFD develops after skeletal maturity, May also be referred to as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD), although due to the complexity of the disorder AAFD is more appropriate. Significant ligamentous rupture occurs as the deformity progresses. Involved ligaments include the spring ligament, the superficial deltoid ligament, the plantar fascia, and the long and short plantar ligaments. Unilateral AAFD is more common than bilateral AAFD.
As discussed above, many different problems can create a painful flatfoot. Damage to the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of AAFD. The posterior tibial tendon is one of the most important tendons of the leg. It starts at a muscle in the calf, travels down the inside of the lower leg and attaches to the bones on the inside of the foot. The main function of this tendon is to support the arch of your foot when you walk. If the tendon becomes inflamed or torn, the arch will slowly collapse. Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop problems with the posterior tibial tendon. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Having flat feet since childhood increases the risk of developing a tear in the posterior tibial tendon. In addition, people who are involved in high impact sports, such as basketball, tennis, or soccer, may have tears of the tendon from repetitive use. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch. An injury to the tendons or ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. Injuries to tendons of the foot can occur either in one instance (traumatically) or with repeated use over time (overuse injury). Regardless of the cause, if tendon function is altered, the forces that are transmitted across joints in the foot are changed and this can lead to increased stress on joint cartilage and ligaments. In addition to tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with nerve problems that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have collapse of the arch or of the entire foot. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.
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.
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
The adult acquired flatfoot is best treated early. Accurate assessment by your doctor will determine which treatment is suitable for you. Reduce your level of activity and follow the RICE regime. R – rest as often as you are able. Refrain from activity that will worsen your condition, such as sports and walking. I – ice, apply to the affected area, ensure you protect the area from frostbite by applying a towel over the foot before using the ice pack. C – compression, a Tubigrip or elasticated support bandage may be
applied to relieve symptoms and ease pain and discomfort. E – elevate the affected foot to reduce painful swelling. You will be prescribed pain relief in the form of non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications (if you do not suffer with allergies or are asthmatic). Immobilisation of your affected foot – this will involve you having a below the knee cast for four to eight weeks. In certain circumstances it is possible for you to have a removable boot instead of a cast. A member of the foot and ankle team will advise as to whether this option is suitable for you. Footwear is important – it is advisable to wear flat sturdy lace-up shoes, for example, trainers or boots. This will not only support your foot, but will also accommodate orthoses (shoe inserts).
Surgery should only be done if the pain does not get better after a few months of conservative treatment. The type of surgery depends on the stage of the PTTD disease. It it also dictated by where tendonitis is located and how much the tendon is damaged. Surgical reconstruction can be extremely complex. Some of the common surgeries include. Tenosynovectomy, removing the inflamed tendon sheath around the PTT. Tendon Transfer, to augment the function of the diseased posterior tibial tendon with a neighbouring tendon. Calcaneo-osteotomy, sometimes the heel bone needs to be corrected to get a better heel bone alignment. Fusion of the Joints, if osteoarthritis of the foot has set in, fusion of the joints may be necessary.