Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is one of several terms to describe a painful, progressive flatfoot deformity in adults. Other terms include posterior tibial tendon insufficiency and adult acquired flatfoot. The term adult acquired flatfoot is more appropriate because it allows a broader recognition of causative factors, not only limited to the posterior tibial tendon, an event where the posterior tibial tendon looses strength and function. The adult acquired flatfoot is a progressive, symptomatic (painful) deformity resulting from gradual stretch (attenuation) of the tibialis posterior tendon as well as the ligaments that support the arch of the foot.
The most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot is posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. What causes adult acquired flat foot? Fracture or dislocation. Tendon laceration. Tarsal Coalition. Arthritis. Neuroarthropathy. Neurological weakness.
Depending on the cause of the flatfoot, a patient may experience one or more of the different symptoms here. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain on the outside of the ankle. Arthritis in the heel also causes this same type of pain. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoewear very difficult. Occasionally, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetics may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. Because their sensation is affected, people with diabetes may not have any pain. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoewear is not used.
Clinicians need to recognize the early stage of this syndrome which includes pain, swelling, tendonitis and disability. The musculoskeletal portion of the clinical exam can help determine the stage of the disease. It is important to palpate the posterior tibial tendon and test its muscle strength. This is tested by asking patient to plantarflex and invert the foot. Joint range of motion is should be assessed as well. Stiffness of the joints may indicate longstanding disease causing a rigid deformity. A weightbearing examination should be performed as well. A complete absence of the medial longitudinal arch is often seen. In later stages the head of the talus bone projects outward to the point of a large "lump" in the arch. Observing the patient's feet from behind shows a significant valgus rotation of the heel. From behind, the "too many toes" sign may be seen as well. This is when there is abducution of the forefoot in the transverse plane allowing the toes to be seen from behind. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon can be assessed by asking the patient to stand on his/her toes on the affected foot. If they are unable to, this indicates the disease is in a more advanced stage with the tendon possibly completely ruptured.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative therapy for adult-acquired flatfoot is a reasonable treatment option that is likely to be beneficial for most patients. In this article, we describe the results of a retrospective cohort study that focused on nonoperative measures, including bracing, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications, used to treat adult-acquired flatfoot in 64 consecutive patients. The results revealed the incidence of successful nonsurgical treatment to be 87.5% (56 of 64 patients), over the 27-month observation period. Overall, 78.12% of the patients with adult-acquired flatfoot were obese (body mass index [BMI] = 30), and 62.5% of the patients who failed nonsurgical therapy were obese; however, logistic regression failed to show that BMI was statistically significantly associated with the outcome of treatment. The use of any form of bracing was statistically significantly associated with successful nonsurgical treatment (fully adjusted OR = 19.8621, 95% CI 1.8774 to 210.134), whereas the presence of a split-tear of the tibialis posterior on magnetic resonance image scans was statistically significantly associated with failed nonsurgical treatment (fully adjusted OR = 0.016, 95% CI 0.0011 to 0.2347). The results of this investigation indicate that a systematic nonsurgical treatment approach to the treatment of the adult-acquired flatfoot deformity can be successful in most cases.
If cast immobilization fails, surgery is the next alternative. Treatment goals include eliminating pain, halting deformity progression and improving mobility. Subtalar Arthroereisis, 15 minute outpatient procedure, may correct flexible flatfoot deformity (hyperpronation). The procedure involves placing an implant under the ankle joint (sinus tarsi) to prevent abnormal motion. Very little recovery time is required and it is completely reversible if necessary. Ask your Dallas foot doctor for more information about this exciting treatment possibility.