The majority of people will experience a flattening of the arch of the feet as we age. This is a natural part of the aging process for most, as the years of abuse we put on our feet causes weakening of the soft tissue structures that support the arch of the foot and gravity dictates that the feet tend to flatten out. When flattening of one of the feet occurs rapidly over a relatively short period of time this may signal a more serious problem.
Flat footedness, most people who develop the condition already have flat feet. With overuse or continuous loading, a change occurs where the arch begins to flatten more than before, with pain and swelling developing on the inside of the ankle. Inadequate support from footwear may occasionally be a contributing factor. Trauma or injury, occasionally this condition may be due to fracture, sprain or direct blow to the tendon. Age, the risk of developing Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction increases with age and research has suggested that middle aged women are more commonly affected. Other possible contributing factors - being overweight and inflammatory arthritis.
The symptoms of PTTD may include pain, swelling, a flattening of the arch, and an inward rolling of the ankle. As the condition progresses, the symptoms will change. For example, when PTTD initially develops, there is pain on the inside of the foot and ankle (along the course of the tendon). In addition, the area may be red, warm, and swollen. Later, as the arch begins to flatten, there may still be pain on the inside of the foot and ankle. But at this point, the foot and toes begin to turn outward and the ankle rolls inward. As PTTD becomes more advanced, the arch flattens even more and the pain often shifts to the outside of the foot, below the ankle. The tendon has deteriorated considerably and arthritis often develops in the foot. In more severe cases, arthritis may also develop in the ankle.
Diagnostic testing is often used to diagnose the condition and help determine the stage of the disease. The most common test done in the office setting are weightbearing X-rays of the foot and ankle. These assess joint alignment and osteoarthritis. If tendon tearing or rupture is suspected, the gold standard test would be MRI. The MRI is used to check the tendon, surrounding ligament structures and the midfoot and hindfoot joints. An MRI is essential if surgery is being considered.
Non surgical Treatment
A patient who has acute tenosynovitis has pain and swelling along the medial aspect of the ankle. The patient is able to perform a single-limb heel-rise test but has pain when doing so. Inversion of the foot against resistance is painful but still strong. The patient should be managed with rest, the administration of appropriate anti-inflammatory medication, and immobilization. The injection of corticosteroids is not recommended. Immobilization with either a rigid below-the-knee cast or a removable cast or boot may be used to prevent overuse and subsequent rupture of the tendon. A removable stirrup-brace is not initially sufficient as it does not limit motion in the sagittal plane, a component of the pathological process. The patient should be permitted to walk while wearing the cast or boot during the six to eight-week period of immobilization. At the end of that time, a decision must be made regarding the need for additional treatment. If there has been marked improvement, the patient may begin wearing a stiff-soled shoe with a medial heel-and-sole wedge to invert the hindfoot. If there has been only mild or moderate improvement, a longer period in the cast or boot may be tried.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions. (See surgical correction of adult acquired flatfoot). Patients with adult acquired flatfoot are advised to discuss thoroughly the benefits vs. risks of all surgical options. Most procedures have long-term recovery mandating that the correct procedure be utilized to give the best long-term benefit. Most flatfoot surgical procedures require six to twelve weeks of cast immobilization. Joint fusion procedures require eight weeks of non-weightbearing on the operated foot - meaning you will be on crutches for two months. The bottom line is, Make sure all of your non-surgical options have been covered before considering surgery. Your primary goals with any treatment are to eliminate pain and improve mobility. In many cases, with the properly designed foot orthosis or ankle brace, these goals can be achieved without surgical intervention.