Some people have always had flat feet from a young age. Unfortunately as people reach their fifties they will suddenly have one foot with a flatter arch than the other foot. This situation is termed adult acquired flatfoot. Adult acquired flatfoot is a painful condition occurring in one foot. The common patient profile is a female over the age of 50 with pre-existing flatfeet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. All of these underlying problems will lead to a weakening of the support structures of the arch. If you have adult acquired flat foot you will not be able to lift your heel off the ground while standing on one leg. Adult acquired flatfoot may develop due to trauma or degeneration of major tendons ankle & foot. Weakness or paralysis of leg muscles can also create a flatfoot deformity.
There are numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes. The most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot is posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
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.
The diagnosis of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction and AAFD is usually made from a combination of symptoms, physical exam and x-ray imaging. The location of pain, shape of the foot, flexibility of the hindfoot joints and gait all may help your physician make the diagnosis and also assess how advanced the problem is.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative treatment of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction can be successful with the Arizona AFO brace, particularly when treatment is initiated in the early stages of the disease. This mandates that the orthopedist has a high index of suspicion when evaluating patients to make an accurate diagnosis. Although there is a role for surgical management of acquired flat feet, a well-fitted, custom-molded leather and polypropylene orthosis can be effective at relieving symptoms and either obviating or delaying any surgical intervention. In today's climate of patient satisfaction directed health care, a less invasive treatment modality that relieves pain may prove to be more valuable than similar pain relief that is obtained after surgery. Questions regarding the long-term results of bracing remain unanswered. Future studies are needed to determine if disease progression and arthrosis occur despite symptomatic relief with a brace. Furthermore, age- and disease stage-matched control groups who are randomized to undergo surgery or bracing are necessary to compare these different treatment modalities.
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. Surgical treatment may include repairing the tendon, tendon transfers, realigning the bones of the foot, joint fusions, or both. Dr. Piccarelli will determine the best approach for your specific case. A variety of surgical techniques is available to correct flexible flatfoot. Your case may require one procedure or a combination of procedures. All of these surgical techniques are aimed at relieving the symptoms and improving foot function. Among these procedures are tendon transfers or tendon lengthening procedures, realignment of one or more bones, or insertion of implant devices. Whether you have flexible flatfoot or PTTD, to select the procedure or combination of procedures for your particular case, Dr. Piccarelli will take into consideration the extent of your deformity based on the x-ray findings, your age, your activity level, and other factors. The length of the recovery period will vary, depending on the procedure or procedures performed.