When we have foot pain, it isn?t always easy to pinpoint the source because we can?t visualize the structure of all the bones, muscles, and tendons on the inside. The posterior tibial tendon plays an important supportive role within the structure of the foot. It attaches to your calf muscle and then comes down along the inside of your ankle, connecting to the bones inside your foot at the other side. This tendon?s main function is to hold up your arch and support your foot during each and every movement. Every step, run, walk, or jump is made possible with the support from this crucial tendon. While it is designed to perform such an important role, it is vulnerable to stress and injury. A tear during a traumatic injury or stress from overuse can injure the tissues within the tendon. This kind of injury is referred to as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). A really hard fall during a sports game or exposure to a repetitive motion, such as the impact on feet during soccer, tennis, football or basketball, can cause an injury. Flat foot and flat feet in adults can exacerbate this condition. The tendon can experience small tears and become inflamed. If the inflammation is allowed to continue and worsen over time, it will weaken further and could rupture completely.
There are multiple factors contributing to the development of this problem. Damage to the nerves, ligaments, and/or tendons of the foot can cause subluxation (partial dislocation) of the subtalar or talonavicular joints. Bone fracture is a possible cause. The resulting joint deformity from any of these problems can lead to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon has always been linked with adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The loss of active and passive pull of the tendon alters the normal biomechanics of the foot and ankle. The reasons for this can be many and varied as well. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and prolonged use of steroids are some of the more common causes of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) brought on by impairment of the posterior tibialis tendon. Overstretching or rupture of the tendon results in tendon and muscle imbalance in the foot leading to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common causes. About half of all adults with this type of arthritis will develop adult flatfoot deformity over time. In such cases, the condition is gradual and progressive. Obesity has been linked with this condition. Loss of blood supply for any reason in the area of the posterior tibialis tendon is another factor. Other possible causes include bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, or a neurologic condition causing weakness.
The symptom most often associated with AAF is PTTD, but it is important to see this only as a single step along a broader continuum. The most important function of the PT tendon is to work in synergy with the peroneus longus to stabilize the midtarsal joint (MTJ). When the PT muscle contracts and acts concentrically, it inverts the foot, thereby raising the medial arch. When stretched under tension, acting eccentrically, its function can be seen as a pronation retarder. The integrity of the PT tendon and muscle is crucial to the proper function of the foot, but it is far from the lone actor in maintaining the arch. There is a vital codependence on a host of other muscles and ligaments that when disrupted leads to an almost predictable loss in foot architecture and subsequent pathology.
Diagnostic testing is often used to diagnose the condition and help determine the stage of the disease. The most common test done in the office setting are weightbearing X-rays of the foot and ankle. These assess joint alignment and osteoarthritis. If tendon tearing or rupture is suspected, the gold standard test would be MRI. The MRI is used to check the tendon, surrounding ligament structures and the midfoot and hindfoot joints. An MRI is essential if surgery is being considered.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative treatment of stage 1 and 2 acquired adult flatfoot deformity can be successful. General components of the treatment include the use of comfort shoes. Activity modification to avoid exacerbating activities. Weight loss if indicated. Specific components of treatment that over time can lead to marked improvement in symptoms include a high repetition, low resistance strengthening program. Appropriate bracing or a medial longitudinal arch support. If the posterior tibial tendon is intact, a series of exercises aimed at strengthening the elongated and dysfunctional tendon complex can be successful. In stage 2 deformities, this is combined with an ankle brace for a period of 2-3 months until the symptoms resolve. At this point, the patient is transitioned to an orthotic insert which may help to support the arch. In patients with stage 1 deformity it may be possible to use an arch support immediately.
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.