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.
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.
Examination by your foot and ankle specialist can confirm the diagnosis for most patients. An ultrasound exam performed in the office setting can evaluate the status of the posterior tibial tendon, the tendon which is primarily responsible for supporting the arch structure of the foot.
Non surgical Treatment
Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is advised. If treated early enough, your symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of your condition can be arrested. In contrast, untreated PTTD could leave you with an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and increasing limitations on walking, running, or other activities. In many cases of PTTD, treatment can begin with non-surgical approaches that may include. Orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may provide you with an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into the shoe. Immobilization. Sometimes a short-leg cast or boot is worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal, or you may need to completely avoid all weight-bearing for a while. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may advise changes to make with your shoes and may provide special inserts designed to improve arch support.
Surgical treatment should be considered when all other conservative treatment has failed. Surgery options for flatfoot reconstruction depend on the severity of the flatfoot. Surgery for a flexible flatfoot deformity (flatfoot without arthritis to the foot joints) involves advancing the posterior tibial tendon under the arch to provide more support and decrease elongation of the tendon as well as addressing the hindfoot eversion with a osteotomy to the calcaneus (surgical cut in the heel bone). Additionally, the Achilles tendon may need to be lengthened because of the compensatory contracture of the Achilles tendon with flatfoot deformity. Flatfoot deformity with arthritic changes to the foot is considered a rigid flatfoot. Correction of a rigid flatfoot deformity usually involves surgical fusion of the hindfoot joints. This is a reconstructive procedure which allows the surgeon to re-position the foot into a normal position. Although the procedure should be considered for advanced PTTD, it has many complications and should be discussed at length with your doctor.