Adult flatfoot refers to a deformity that develops after skeletal maturity is reached. Adult flatfoot should be differentiated from constitutional flatfoot, which is a common congenital non-pathologic foot morphology. There are numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes.
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot. Sometimes this can be a result of specific trauma, but usually the tendon becomes injured from wear and tear over time. This is more prevalent in individuals with an inherited flat foot but excessive weight, age, and level of activity are also contributing factors.
Initially, flatfoot deformity may not present with any symptoms. However, overtime as the tendon continues to function in an abnormal position, people with fallen arches will begin to have throbbing or sharp pain along the inside of the arch. Once the tendon and soft tissue around it elongates, there is no strengthening exercises or mechanism to shorten the tendon back to a normal position. Flatfoot can also occur in one or both feet. If the arch starts to slowly collapse in one foot and not the other, posterior tibial dysfunction (PTTD) is the most likely cause. People with flatfoot may only have pain with certain activities such as running or exercise in the early phase of PTTD. Pain may start from the arch and continue towards the inside part of the foot and ankle where the tendon courses from the leg. Redness, swelling and increased warmth may also occur. Later signs of PTTD include pain on the outside of the foot from the arch collapsing and impinging other joints. Arthritic symptoms such as painful, swollen joints in the foot and ankle may occur later as well due to the increased stress on the joints from working in an abnormal position for a long period of time.
Starting from the knee down, check for any bowing of the tibia. A tibial varum will cause increased medial stress on the foot and ankle. This is essential to consider in surgical planning. Check the gastrocnemius muscle and Achilles complex via a straight and bent knee check for equinus. If the range of motion improves to at least neutral with bent knee testing of the Achilles complex, one may consider a gastrocnemius recession. If the Achilles complex is still tight with bent knee testing, an Achilles lengthening may be necessary. Check the posterior tibial muscle along its entire course. Palpate the muscle and observe the tendon for strength with a plantarflexion and inversion stress test. Check the flexor muscles for strength in order to see if an adequate transfer tendon is available. Check the anterior tibial tendon for size and strength.
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.
If conservative treatment fails to provide relief of pain and disability then surgery is considered. Numerous factors determine whether a patient is a surgical candidate. They include age, obesity, diabetes, vascular status, and the ability to be compliant with post-operative care. Surgery usually requires a prolonged period of nonweightbearing immobilization. Total recovery ranges from 3 months to one year. Clinical, x-ray, and MRI examination are all used to select the appropriate surgical procedure.