Noticed that your foot is getting flatter and more painful? Do you have difficulty walking or performing exercise activity without leg and arch pain? Have you heard the term "fallen arches"? All of these things refer to a condition known as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction. This is an inflammation and overuse syndrome of one of the long tendons that pass from the leg around the inside of the ankle and attaches to the inside arch of the foot. The posterior tibial tendon?s job is to help support the arch and allow for more efficient gait.Causes
As discussed above, many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot. Damage to the posterior tibial tendon is the most common cause of AAFD. The posterior tibial tendon is one of the most important tendons of the leg. It starts at a muscle in the calf, travels down the inside of the lower leg and attaches to the bones on the inside of the foot. The main function of this tendon is to hold up the arch and support your foot when you walk. If the tendon becomes inflamed or torn, the arch will slowly collapse. Women and people over 40 are more likely to develop problems with the posterior tibial tendon. Other risk factors include obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Having flat feet since childhood increases the risk of developing a tear in the posterior tibial tendon. In addition, people who are involved in high impact sports, such as basketball, tennis, or soccer, may have tears of the tendon from repetitive use. Inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause a painful flatfoot. This type of arthritis attacks not only the cartilage in the joints, but also the ligaments that support the foot. Inflammatory arthritis not only causes pain, but also causes the foot to change shape and become flat. The arthritis can affect the back of the foot or the middle of foot, both of which can result in a fallen arch.Symptoms
Initially, flatfoot deformity may not present with any symptoms. However, overtime as the tendon continues to function in an abnormal position, people with fallen arches will begin to have throbbing or sharp pain along the inside of the arch. Once the tendon and soft tissue around it elongates, there is no strengthening exercises or mechanism to shorten the tendon back to a normal position. Flatfoot can also occur in one or both feet. If the arch starts to slowly collapse in one foot and not the other, posterior tibial dysfunction (PTTD) is the most likely cause. People with flatfoot may only have pain with certain activities such as running or exercise in the early phase of PTTD. Pain may start from the arch and continue towards the inside part of the foot and ankle where the tendon courses from the leg. Redness, swelling and increased warmth may also occur. Later signs of PTTD include pain on the outside of the foot from the arch collapsing and impinging other joints. Arthritic symptoms such as painful, swollen joints in the foot and ankle may occur later as well due to the increased stress on the joints from working in an abnormal position for a long period of time.Diagnosis
Starting from the knee down, check for any bowing of the tibia. A tibial varum will cause increased medial stress on the foot and ankle. This is essential to consider in surgical planning. Check the gastrocnemius muscle and Achilles complex via a straight and bent knee check for equinus. If the range of motion improves to at least neutral with bent knee testing of the Achilles complex, one may consider a gastrocnemius recession. If the Achilles complex is still tight with bent knee testing, an Achilles lengthening may be necessary. Check the posterior tibial muscle along its entire course. Palpate the muscle and observe the tendon for strength with a plantarflexion and inversion stress test. Check the flexor muscles for strength in order to see if an adequate transfer tendon is available. Check the anterior tibial tendon for size and strength.Non surgical Treatment
PTTD is a progressive condition. Early treatment is needed to prevent relentless progression to a more advanced disease which can lead to more problems for that affected foot. In general, the treatments include rest. Reducing or even stopping activities that worsen the pain is the initial step. Switching to low-impact exercise such as cycling, elliptical trainers, or swimming is helpful. These activities do not put a large impact load on the foot. Ice. Apply cold packs on the most painful area of the posterior tibial tendon frequently to keep down the swelling. Placing ice over the tendon immediately after completing an exercise helps to decrease the inflammation around the tendon.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Medication (NSAIDS). Drugs, such as arcoxia, voltaren and celebrex help to reduce pain and inflammation. Taking such medications prior to an exercise activity helps to limit inflammation around the tendon. However, long term use of these drugs can be harmful to you with side effects including peptic ulcer disease and renal impairment or failure. Casting. A short leg cast or walking boot may be used for 6 to 8 weeks in the acutely painful foot. This allows the tendon to rest and the swelling to go down. However, a cast causes the other muscles of the leg to atrophy (decrease in strength) and thus is only used if no other conservative treatment works. Most people can be helped with orthotics and braces. An orthotic is a shoe insert. It is the most common non-surgical treatment for a flatfoot and it is very safe to use. A custom orthotic is required in patients who have moderate to severe changes in the shape of the foot. Physiotherapy helps to strengthen the injured tendon and it can help patients with mild to moderate disease of the posterior tibial tendon.Surgical Treatment
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.