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.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
Symptoms are minor and may go unnoticed, Pain dominates, rather than deformity. Minor swelling may be visible along the course of the tendon. Pain and swelling along the course of the tendon. Visible decrease in arch height. Aduction of the forefoot on rearfoot. Subluxed tali and navicular joints. Deformation at this point is still flexible. Considerable deformity and weakness. Significant pain. Arthritic changes in the tarsal joints. Deformation at this point is rigid.
The history and physical examination are probably the most important tools the physician uses to diagnose this problem. The wear pattern on your shoes can offer some helpful clues. Muscle testing helps identify any areas of weakness or muscle impairment. This should be done in both the weight bearing and nonweight bearing positions. A very effective test is the single heel raise. You will be asked to stand on one foot and rise up on your toes. You should be able to lift your heel off the ground easily while keeping the calcaneus (heel bone) in the middle with slight inversion (turned inward). X-rays are often used to study the position, shape, and alignment of the bones in the feet and ankles. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging is the imaging modality of choice for evaluating the posterior tibial tendon and spring ligament complex.
Non surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment also depends on the stage of the disease. Early on, the pain and swelling with no deformity can be treated with rest, ice, compression, elevation and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Usually OTC orthotic inserts are recommended with stability oriented athletic shoes. If this fails or the condition is more advanced, immobilization in a rigid walking boot is recommended. This rests the tendon and protects it from further irritation, attenuation, or tearing. If symptoms are greatly improved or eliminated then the patient may return to a supportive shoe. To protect the patient from reoccurrence, different types of devices are recommended. The most common device is orthotics. Usually custom-made orthotics are preferable to OTC. They are reserved for early staged PTTD. Advanced stages may require a more aggressive type orthotic or an AFO (ankle-foot orthosis). There are different types of AFO’s. One type has a double-upright/stirrup attached to a footplate. Another is a gauntlet-type with a custom plastic interior surrounded be a lace-up leather exterior. Both require the use of a bulky type athletic or orthopedic shoes. Patient compliance is always challenging with these larger braces and shoes.
When conservative care fails to control symptoms and/or deformity, then surgery may be needed. The goal of surgical treatment is to obtain good alignment while keeping the foot and ankle as flexible as possible. The most common procedures used with this condition include arthrodesis (fusion), osteotomy (cutting out a wedge-shaped piece of bone), and lateral column lengthening. Lateral column lengthening involves the use of a bone graft at the calcaneocuboid joint. This procedure helps restore the medial longitudinal arch (arch along the inside of the foot). A torn tendon or spring ligament will be repaired or reconstructed. Other surgical options include tendon shortening or lengthening. Or the surgeon may move one or more tendons. This procedure is called a tendon transfer. Tendon transfer uses another tendon to help the posterior tibial tendon function more effectively. A tendon transfer is designed to change the force and angle of pull on the bones of the arch. It’s not clear yet from research evidence which surgical procedure works best for this condition. A combination of surgical treatments may be needed. It may depend on your age, type and severity of deformity and symptoms, and your desired level of daily activity.