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Painful progressive flatfoot, otherwise known as tibialis posterior tendonitis or adult-acquired flatfoot, refers to inflammation of the tendon of the tibialis posterior. This condition arises when the tendon becomes inflamed, stretched, or torn. Left untreated, it may lead to severe disability and chronic pain. People are predisposed to tibialis posterior tendonitis if they have flat feet or an abnormal attachment of the tendon to the bones in the midfoot.
There are numerous causes of acquired Adult Flatfoot, including, trauma, fracture, dislocation, tendon rupture/partial rupture or inflammation of the tendons, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy and neurologic weakness. The most common cause of acquired Adult Flatfoot is due to overuse of a tendon on the inside of the ankle called the posterior tibial tendon. This is classed as - posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. What are the causes of Adult Acquired flat foot? Trauma, Fracture or dislocation. Tendon rupture, partial tear or inflammation. Tarsal Coalition. Arthritis. Neuroarthropathy. Neurological weakness.
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.
Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction is diagnosed with careful clinical observation of the patient?s gait (walking), range of motion testing for the foot and ankle joints, and diagnostic imaging. People with flatfoot deformity walk with the heel angled outward, also called over-pronation. Although it is normal for the arch to impact the ground for shock absorption, people with PTTD have an arch that fully collapses to the ground and does not reform an arch during the entire gait period. After evaluating the ambulation pattern, the foot and ankle range of motion should be tested. Usually the affected foot will have decreased motion to the ankle joint and the hindfoot. Muscle strength may also be weaker as well. An easy test to perform for PTTD is the single heel raise where the patient is asked to raise up on the ball of his or her effected foot. A normal foot type can lift up on the toes without pain and the heel will invert slightly once the person has fully raised the heel up during the test. In early phases of PTTD the patient may be able to lift up the heel but the heel will not invert. An elongated or torn posterior tibial tendon, which is a mid to late finding of PTTD, will prohibit the patient from fully rising up on the heel and will cause intense pain to the arch. Finally diagnostic imaging, although used alone cannot diagnose PTTD, can provide additional information for an accurate diagnosis of flatfoot deformity. Xrays of the foot can show the practitioner important angular relationships of the hindfoot and forefoot which help diagnose flatfoot deformity. Most of the time, an MRI is not needed to diagnose PTTD but is a tool that should be considered in advanced cases of flatfoot deformity. If a partial tear of the posterior tibial tendon is of concern, then an MRI can show the anatomic location of the tear and the extensiveness of the injury.
Non surgical Treatment
Initial treatment for most patients consists of rest and anti-inflammatory medications. This will help reduce the swelling and pain associated with the condition. The long term treatment for the problem usually involves custom made orthotics and supportive shoe gear to prevent further breakdown of the foot. ESWT(extracorporeal shock wave therapy) is a novel treatment which uses sound wave technology to stimulate blood flow to the tendon to accelerate the healing process. This can help lead to a more rapid return to normal activities for most patients. If treatment is initiated early in the process, most patients can experience a return to normal activities without the need for surgery.
For patients with a more severe deformity, or significant symptoms that do not respond to conservative treatment, surgery may be necessary. There are several procedures available depending on the nature of your condition. Ligament and muscle lengthening, removal of inflamed tendon lining, transferring of a nearby tendon to re-establish an arch, and bone realignment and fusion are examples of surgical options to help with a painful flatfoot condition. Surgery can be avoided when symptoms are addressed early. If you are feeling ankle pain or notice any warmth, redness or swelling in your foot, contact us immediately. We can create a tailored treatment plan to resolve your symptoms and prevent future problems.
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