Often considered solely a product of genetics, flatfoot rarely carries with it the stigma of presenting over time. The truth, however, is that flatfoot does not discriminate on the basis of age and can become an issue in the form of adult-acquired flatfoot. Like its congenital cousin, adult-acquired flatfoot deformity is one that, in causing structural damage to the foot (and particularly to the posterior tibial tendon), creates an imbalance that may result in any number of symptoms, including inflammation, pain, stiffness, limited mobility, and even arthritis.
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.
Many patients with this condition have no pain or symptoms. When problems do arise, the good news is that acquired flatfoot treatment is often very effective. Initially, it will be important to rest and avoid activities that worsen the pain.
Perform a structural assessment of the foot and ankle. Check the ankle for alignment and position. When it comes to patients with severe PTTD, the deltoid has failed, causing an instability of the ankle and possible valgus of the ankle. This is a rare and difficult problem to address. However, if one misses it, it can lead to dire consequences and potential surgical failure. Check the heel alignment and position of the heel both loaded and during varus/valgus stress. Compare range of motion of the heel to the normal contralateral limb. Check alignment of the midtarsal joint for collapse and lateral deviation. Noting the level of lateral deviation in comparison to the contralateral limb is critical for surgical planning. Check midfoot alignment of the naviculocuneiform joints and metatarsocuneiform joints both for sag and hypermobility.
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.
Although non-surgical treatments can successfully manage the symptoms, they do not correct the underlying problem. It can require a life-long commitment to wearing the brace during periods of increased pain or activity demands. This will lead a majority of patients to choose surgical correction of the deformity, through Reconstructive Surgery. All of the considerations that were extremely important during the evaluation stage become even more important when creating a surgical plan. Generally, a combination of procedures are utilized in the same setting, to allow full correction of the deformity. Many times, this can be performed as a same-day surgery, without need for an overnight hospital stay. However, one or two day hospital admissions can be utilized to help manage the post-operative pain. Although the recovery process can require a significant investment of time, the subsequent decades of improved function and activity level, as well as decreased pain, leads to a substantial return on your investment.