Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD), embraces a wide spectrum of deformities. AAFD is a complex pathology consisting both of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency and failure of the capsular and ligamentous structures of the foot. Each patient presents with characteristic deformities across the involved joints, requiring individualized treatment. Early stages may respond well to aggressive conservative management, yet more severe AAFD necessitates prompt surgical therapy to halt the progression of the disease to stages requiring more complex procedures. We present the most current diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to AAFD, based on the most pertinent literature and our own experience and investigations.
There are numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes. The most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot is posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
Patients often experience pain and/or deformity at the ankle or hindfoot. When the posterior tibial tendon does not work properly, a number of changes can occur to the foot and ankle. In the earlier stages, symptoms often include pain and tenderness along the posterior tibial tendon behind the inside of the ankle. As the tendon progressively fails, deformity of the foot and ankle may occur. This deformity can include progressive flattening of the arch, shifting of the heel so that it no longer is aligned underneath the rest of the leg, rotation and deformity of the forefoot, tightening of the heel cord, development of arthritis, and deformity of the ankle joint. At certain stages of this disorder, pain may shift from the inside to the outside aspect of the ankle as the heel shifts outward and structures are pinched laterally.
Observation by a skilled foot clinician and a hands-on evaluation of the foot and ankle is the most accurate diagnostic technique. Your Dallas foot doctor may have you do a walking examination (the most reliable way to check for the deformity). During walking, the affected foot appears more pronated and deformed. Your podiatrist may do muscle testing to look for strength deficiencies. During a single foot raise test, the foot doctor will ask you to rise up on the tip of your toes while keeping your unaffected foot off the ground. If your posterior tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, you will be unable to lift your heel off the floor. In less severe cases, it is possible to rise onto your toes, but your heel will not invert normally. X-rays are not always helpful as a diagnostic tool for Adult Flatfoot because both feet will generally demonstrate a deformity. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may show tendon injury and inflammation, but can?t always be relied on for a complete diagnosis. In most cases, a MRI is not necessary to diagnose a posterior tibial tendon injury. An ultrasound may also be used to confirm the deformity, but is usually not required for an initial diagnosis.
Non surgical Treatment
Initial treatment consists of supporting the medial longitudinal arch (running the length of the foot) to relieve strain on the medial soft tissues. The most effective way to relieve pain on the tendon is to use a boot or brace, and once tenderness and pain has resolved, an orthotic device. A boot, brace, or orthotic has not been shown to correct or even prevent the progression of deformity. Orthotics can alleviate symptoms and may slow the progression of deformity, particularly if mild. The deformity may progress despite orthotics.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions. (See surgical correction of adult acquired flatfoot). Patients with adult acquired flatfoot are advised to discuss thoroughly the benefits vs. risks of all surgical options. Most procedures have long-term recovery mandating that the correct procedure be utilized to give the best long-term benefit. Most flatfoot surgical procedures require six to twelve weeks of cast immobilization. Joint fusion procedures require eight weeks of non-weightbearing on the operated foot - meaning you will be on crutches for two months. The bottom line is, Make sure all of your non-surgical options have been covered before considering surgery. Your primary goals with any treatment are to eliminate pain and improve mobility. In many cases, with the properly designed foot orthosis or ankle brace, these goals can be achieved without surgical intervention.