Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) is a painful condition resulting from the collapse of the longitudinal (lengthwise) arch of the foot. As the name suggests, this condition is not present at birth or during childhood. It occurs after the skeleton is fully matured. In the past it was referred to a posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (or insufficiency). But the name was changed because the condition really describes a wide range of flatfoot deformities. AAFD is most often seen in women between the ages of 40 and 60. This guide will help you understand how the problem develops, how doctors diagnose the condition, what treatment options are available.
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.
The symptom most often associated with AAF is PTTD, but it is important to see this only as a single step along a broader continuum. The most important function of the PT tendon is to work in synergy with the peroneus longus to stabilize the midtarsal joint (MTJ). When the PT muscle contracts and acts concentrically, it inverts the foot, thereby raising the medial arch. When stretched under tension, acting eccentrically, its function can be seen as a pronation retarder. The integrity of the PT tendon and muscle is crucial to the proper function of the foot, but it is far from the lone actor in maintaining the arch. There is a vital codependence on a host of other muscles and ligaments that when disrupted leads to an almost predictable loss in foot architecture and subsequent pathology.
There are four stages of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The severity of the deformity determines your stage. For example, Stage I means there is a flatfoot position but without deformity. Pain and swelling from tendinitis is common in this stage. Stage II there is a change in the foot alignment. This means a deformity is starting to develop. The physician can still move the bones back into place manually (passively). Stage III adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) tells us there is a fixed deformity. This means the ankle is stiff or rigid and doesn???t move beyond a neutral (midline) position. Stage IV is characterized by deformity in the foot and the ankle. The deformity may be flexible or fixed. The joints often show signs of degenerative joint disease (arthritis).
Non surgical Treatment
It is imperative that you seek treatment should you notice any symptoms of a falling arch or PTTD. Due to the progressive nature of this condition, your foot will have a much higher chance of staying strong and healthy with early treatment. When pain first appears, your doctor will evaluate your foot to confirm a flatfoot diagnosis and begin an appropriate treatment plan. This may involve rest, anti-inflammatory medications, shoe modifications, physical therapy, orthotics and a possible boot or brace. When treatment can be applied at the beginning, symptoms can most often be resolved without the need for surgery.
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.