Chronic posterior tibial tendon insufficiency can result in acquired adult flatfoot deformity. This is a chronic foot condition where the soft-tissues (including the posterior tibial tendon, deltoid and spring ligaments) on the inside aspect of the ankle are subject to repetitive load during walking and standing. Over time these structures may become painful and swollen ultimately failing. When these supporting structures fail the result is a change in the alignment of the foot. This condition is typically associated with a progressive flatfoot deformity. This type of deformity leads to increased strain on the supporting structures on the inside of the ankle and loading through the outer aspect of the ankle and hind-foot. Both the inside and outside of the ankle can become painful resulting significant disability. This condition can often be treated without surgery by strengthening the involved muscles and tendons and by bracing the ankle. When non-operative treatment fails, surgery can improve the alignment replace the injured tendon. Alignment and function can be restored, however, the time to maximal improvement is typically six months but, can take up to a year.
Several risk factors are associated with PTT dysfunction, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, previous ankle surgery or trauma and exposure to steroids. A person who suspects that they are suffering from PTT dysfunction should seek medical attention earlier rather than later. It is much easier to treat early and avoid a collapsed arch than it is to repair one. When the pain first happens and there is no significant flatfoot deformity, initial treatments include rest, oral anti-inflammatory medications and, depending on the severity, a special boot or brace.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise. A patient is asked to step with full body weight on the symptomatic foot, keeping the unaffected foot off the ground. The patient is then instructed to "raise up on the tip toes" of the affected foot. If the posterior tibial tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, the patient will be unable to lift the heel off the floor and rise onto the toes. In less severe cases, the patient will be able to rise on the toes, but the heel will not be noted to invert as it normally does when we rise onto the toes. X-rays can be helpful but are not diagnostic of the adult acquired flatfoot. Both feet - the symptomatic and asymptomatic - will demonstrate a flatfoot deformity on x-ray. Careful observation may show a greater severity of deformity on the affected side.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative therapy for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction has been shown to yield 67% good-to-excellent results in 49 patients with stage 2 and 3 deformities. A rigid UCBL orthosis with a medial forefoot post was used in nonobese patients with flexible heel deformities correctible to neutral and less than 10? of forefoot varus. A molded ankle foot orthosis was used in obese patients with fixed deformity and forefoot varus greater than 10?. Average length of orthotic use was 15 months. Four patients ultimately elected to have surgery. The authors concluded that orthotic management is successful in older low-demand patients and that surgical treatment can be reserved for those patients who fail nonoperative treatment.
In cases of PTTD that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. For some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.