Adult acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD), embraces a wide spectrum of deformities. AAFD is a complex pathology consisting both of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency and failure of the capsular and ligamentous structures of the foot. Each patient presents with characteristic deformities across the involved joints, requiring individualized treatment. Early stages may respond well to aggressive conservative management, yet more severe AAFD necessitates prompt surgical therapy to halt the progression of the disease to stages requiring more complex procedures. We present the most current diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to AAFD, based on the most pertinent literature and our own experience and investigations.
Damage to the posterior tendon from overuse is the most common cause for adult acquired flatfoot. Running, walking, hiking, and climbing stairs are activities that add stress to this tendon, and this overuse can lead to damage. Obesity, previous ankle surgery or trauma, diabetes (Charcot foot), and rheumatoid arthritis are other common risk factors.
Often, this condition is only present in one foot, but it can affect both. Adult acquired flatfoot symptoms vary, but can swelling of the foot's inner side and aching heel and arch pain. Some patients experience no pain, but others may experience severe pain. Symptoms may increase during long periods of standing, resulting in fatigue. Symptoms may change over time as the condition worsens. The pain may move to the foot's outer side, and some patients may develop arthritis in the ankle and foot.
Although you can do the "wet test" at home, a thorough examination by a doctor will be needed to identify why the flatfoot developed. Possible causes include a congenital abnormality, a bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, arthritis or neurologic weakness. For example, an inability to rise up on your toes while standing on the affected foot may indicate damage to the posterior tibial tendon (PTT), which supports the heel and forms the arch. If "too many toes" show on the outside of your foot when the doctor views you from the rear, your shinbone (tibia) may be sliding off the anklebone (talus), another indicator of damage to the PTT. Be sure to wear your regular shoes to the examination. An irregular wear pattern on the bottom of the shoe is another indicator of acquired adult flatfoot. Your physician may request X-rays to see how the bones of your feet are aligned. Muscle and tendon strength are tested by asking you to move the foot while the doctor holds it.
Non surgical Treatment
Orthotic or anklebrace, Over-the-counter or custom shoe inserts to position the foot and relieve pain are the most common non-surgical treatment option. Custom orthotics are often suggested if the shape change of the foot is more severe. An ankle brace (either over-the-counter or custom made) is another option that will help to ease tendon tension and pain. Boot immobilization. A walking boot supports the tendon and allows it to heal. Activity modifications. Depending on what we find, we may recommend limiting high-impact activities, such as running, jumping or court sports, or switching out high-impact activities for low-impact options for a period of time. Ice and anti-inflammatory medications. These may be given as needed to decrease your symptoms.
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.