Adult flatfoot refers to a deformity that develops after skeletal maturity is reached. Adult flatfoot should be differentiated from constitutional flatfoot, which is a common congenital non-pathologic foot morphology. There are numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes.
Adult acquired flatfoot is caused by inflammation and progressive weakening of the major tendon that it is responsible for supporting the arch of the foot. This condition will commonly be accompanied by swelling and pain on the inner portion of the foot and ankle. Adult acquired flatfoot is more common in women and overweight individuals. It can also be seen after an injury to the foot and ankle. If left untreated the problem may result in a vicious cycle, as the foot becomes flatter the tendon supporting the arch structure becomes weaker and more and more stretched out. As the tendon becomes weaker, the foot structure becomes progressively flatter. Early detection and treatment is key, as this condition can lead to chronic swelling and pain.
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.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise. A patient is asked to step with full body weight on the symptomatic foot, keeping the unaffected foot off the ground. The patient is then instructed to "raise up on the tip toes" of the affected foot. If the posterior tibial tendon has been attenuated or ruptured, the patient will be unable to lift the heel off the floor and rise onto the toes. In less severe cases, the patient will be able to rise on the toes, but the heel will not be noted to invert as it normally does when we rise onto the toes. X-rays can be helpful but are not diagnostic of the adult acquired flatfoot. Both feet - the symptomatic and asymptomatic - will demonstrate a flatfoot deformity on x-ray. Careful observation may show a greater severity of deformity on the affected side.
Non surgical Treatment
Although AAF is not reversible without surgery, appropriate treatment should address the patient?s current symptoms, attempt to reduce pain, and allow continued ambulation. In the early stages, orthotic and pedorthic solutions can address the loss of integrity of the foot?s support structures, potentially inhibiting further destruction.3-5 As a general principle, orthotic devices should only block or limit painful or destructive motion without reducing or restricting normal motion or muscle function. Consequently, the treatment must match the stage of the deformity.
In cases of PTTD that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. For some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.