Adult acquired flat foot was first described in the late 1960s as something that occurred after trauma, as a result of a tear to the tibial posterior tendon. However, by 1969 two doctors called Kettlekamp and Alexander described cases in which no trauma had taken place. They referred to the condition as "tibial posterior tendon dysfunction" and this became known as the most common type of adult acquired flat foot.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot deformity. There is often no specific event that starts the problem, such as a sudden tendon injury. More commonly, the tendon becomes injured from cumulative wear and tear. Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction occurs more commonly in patients who already have a flat foot for other reasons. As the arch flattens, more stress is placed on the posterior tibial tendon and also on the ligaments on the inside of the foot and ankle. The result is a progressive disorder.
Some symptoms of adult acquired flat foot are pain along the inside of the foot and ankle, pain that increases with activity, and difficulty walking for long periods of time. You may experience difficulty standing, pain on the outside of the ankle, and bony bumps on the top of the foot and inside the foot. You may also have numbness and tingling of the feet and toes (may result from large bone spurs putting pressure on nerves), swelling, a large bump on the sole of the foot and/or an ulcer (in diabetic patients). Diabetic patients should wear a properly fitting diabetic shoe wear to prevent these complications from happening.
The diagnosis of tibialis posterior dysfunction is essentially clinical. However, plain radiographs of the foot and ankle are useful for assessing the degree of deformity and to confirm the presence or absence of degenerative changes in the subtalar and ankle articulations. The radiographs are also useful to exclude other causes of an acquired flatfoot deformity. The most useful radiographs are bilateral anteroposterior and lateral radiographs of the foot and a mortise (true anteroposterior) view of the ankle. All radiographs should be done with the patient standing. In most cases we see no role for magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasonography, as the diagnosis can be made clinically.
Non surgical Treatment
The adult acquired flatfoot is best treated early. There is no recommended home treatment other than the general avoidance of prolonged weightbearing in non-supportive footwear until the patient can be seen in the office of the foot and ankle specialist. In Stage I, the inflammation and tendon injury will respond to rest, protected ambulation in a cast, as well as anti-inflammatory therapy. Follow-up treatment with custom-molded foot orthoses and properly designed athletic or orthopedic footwear are critical to maintain stability of the foot and ankle after initial symptoms have been calmed. Once the tendon has been stretched, the foot will become deformed and visibly rolled into a pronated position at the ankle. Non-surgical treatment has a significantly lower chance of success. Total immobilization in a cast or Camwalker may calm down symptoms and arrest progression of the deformity in a smaller percentage of patients. Usually, long-term use of a brace known as an ankle foot orthosis is required to stop progression of the deformity without surgery. A new ankle foot orthosis known as the Richie Brace, offered by PAL Health Systems, has proven to show significant success in treating Stage II posterior tibial dysfunction and the adult acquired flatfoot. This is a sport-style brace connected to a custom corrected foot orthotic device that fits well into most forms of lace-up footwear, including athletic shoes. The brace is light weight and far more cosmetically appealing than the traditional ankle foot orthosis previously prescribed.
If initial conservative therapy of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency fails, surgical treatment is considered. Operative treatment of stage 1 disease involves release of the tendon sheath, tenosynovectomy, debridement of the tendon with excision of flap tears, and repair of longitudinal tears. A short-leg walking cast is worn for 3 weeks postoperatively. Teasdall and Johnson reported complete relief of pain in 74% of 14 patients undergoing this treatment regimen for stage 1 disease. Surgical debridement of tenosynovitis in early stages is believed to possibly prevent progression of disease to later stages of dysfunction.