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.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
Symptoms of pain may have developed gradually as result of overuse or they may be traced to one minor injury. Typically, the pain localizes to the inside (medial) aspect of the ankle, under the medial malleolus. However, some patients will also experience pain over the outside (lateral) aspect of the hindfoot because of the displacement of the calcaneus impinging with the lateral malleolus. This usually occurs later in the course of the condition. Patients may walk with a limp or in advanced cases be disabled due to pain. They may also have noticed worsening of their flatfoot deformity.
Diagnostic testing is often used to diagnose the condition and help determine the stage of the disease. The most common test done in the office setting are weightbearing X-rays of the foot and ankle. These assess joint alignment and osteoarthritis. If tendon tearing or rupture is suspected, the gold standard test would be MRI. The MRI is used to check the tendon, surrounding ligament structures and the midfoot and hindfoot joints. An MRI is essential if surgery is being considered.
Non surgical Treatment
Stage one deformities usually respond to conservative or non-surgical therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication, casting, functional orthotics or a foot ankle orthosis called a Richie Brace. If these modalities are unsuccessful surgery is warranted.
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.