Adult-acquired flatfoot (AAF) is the term used to describe the progressive deformity of the foot and ankle that, in its later stages, results in collapsed and badly deformed feet. Although the condition has been described and written about since the 1980s, AAF is not a widely used acronym within the O&P community-even though orthotists and pedorthists easily recognize the signs of the condition because they treat them on an almost daily basis. AAF is caused by a loss of the dynamic and static support structures of the medial longitudinal arch, resulting in an incrementally worsening planovalgus deformity associated with posterior tibial (PT) tendinitis. Over the past 30 years, researchers have attempted to understand and explain the gradual yet significant deterioration that can occur in foot structure, which ultimately leads to painful and debilitating conditions-a progression that is currently classified into four stages. What begins as a predisposition to flatfoot can progress to a collapsed arch, and then to the more severe posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). Left untreated, the PT tendon can rupture, and the patient may then require a rigid AFO or an arthrodesis fixation surgery to stabilize the foot in order to remain capable of walking pain free.
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 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.
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.
For more chronic flatfoot pain, surgical intervention may be the best option. Barring other serious medical ailments, surgery is a good alternative for patients with a serious problem. There are two surgical options depending on a person?s physical condition, age and lifestyle. The first type of surgery involves repair of the PTT by transferring of a nearby tendon to help re-establish an arch and straighten out the foot. After this surgery, patients wear a non-weight bearing support boot for four to six weeks. The other surgery involves fusing of two or three bones in the hind foot below the ankle. While providing significant pain relief, this option does take away some hind foot side-to-side motion. Following surgery, patients are in a cast for three months. Surgery is an effective treatment to address adult-acquired flatfoot, but it can sometimes be avoided if foot issues are resolved early. That is why it is so important to seek help right away if you are feeling ankle pain. But perhaps the best way to keep from becoming flatfooted is to avoid the risk factors altogether. This means keeping your blood pressure, weight and diabetes in check.