Posterior tibial tendon insufficiency (also called posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or adult acquired flatfoot) has been named literally after failure of the posterior tibial tendon. However, the condition is caused not only by the progressive failure of the posterior tibial tendon; it is also failure of associated ligaments and joints on the inner side of the ankle and foot. This results in collapse of the arch of the foot, along with the deformity which most often becomes the debilitating problem in its later stages. While at the beginning the common symptom is pain over the tendon in the inner part of the hindfoot and midfoot, later on it is the deformity that can threaten a person?s ability to walk. Just as the tendon degenerates and loses its function, other soft tissue on the same inner side of the foot – namely the ligaments – degenerate and fail. Ligaments are responsible for holding bones in place, and when they fail, bones shift to places where they shouldn?t; deformity is the result. The deformity causes malalignment, leading to more stress and failure of the ligaments.
The posterior tibial tendon, which connects the bones inside the foot to the calf, is responsible for supporting the foot during movement and holding up the arch. Gradual stretching and tearing of the posterior tibial tendon can cause failure of the ligaments in the arch. Without support, the bones in the feet fall out of normal position, rolling the foot inward. The foot’s arch will collapse completely over time, resulting in adult acquired flatfoot. The ligaments and tendons holding up the arch can lose elasticity and strength as a result of aging. Obesity, diabetes, and hypertension can increase the risk of developing this condition. Adult acquired flatfoot is seen more often in women than in men and in those 40 or older.
Symptoms shift around a bit, depending on what stage of PTTD you?re in. For instance, you?re likely to start off with tendonitis, or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon. This will make the area around the inside of your ankle and possibly into your arch swollen, reddened, warm to the touch, and painful. Inflammation may actually last throughout the stages of PTTD. The ankle will also begin to roll towards the inside of the foot (pronate), your heel may tilt, and you may experience some pain in your leg (e.g. shin splints). As the condition progresses, the toes and foot begin to turn outward, so that when you look at your foot from the back (or have a friend look for you, because-hey-that can be kind of a difficult
maneuver to pull off) more toes than usual will be visible on the outside (i.e. the side with the pinky toe). At this stage, the foot?s still going to be flexible, although it will likely have flattened somewhat due to the lack of support from the posterior tibial tendon. You may also find it difficult to stand on your toes. Finally, you may reach a stage in which your feet are inflexibly flat. At this point, you may experience pain below your ankle on the outside of your foot, and you might even develop arthritis in the ankle.
Observe forefoot to hindfoot alignment. Do this with the patient sitting and the heel in neutral, and also with the patient standing. I like to put blocks under the forefoot with the heel in neutral to see how much forefoot correction is necessary to help hold the hindfoot position. One last note is to check all joints for stiffness. In cases of prolonged PTTD or coalition, rigid deformity is present and one must carefully check the joints of the midfoot and hindfoot for stiffness and arthritis in the surgical pre-planning.
Non surgical Treatment
Treatment depends very much upon a patient?s symptoms, functional goals, degree and specifics of deformity, and the presence of arthritis. Some patients get better without surgery. Rest and immobilization, orthotics, braces and physical therapy all may be appropriate. With early-stage disease that involves pain along the tendon, immobilization with a boot for a period of time can relieve stress on the tendon and reduce the inflammation and pain. Once these symptoms have resolved, patients are often transitioned into an orthotic that supports the inside aspect of the hindfoot. For patients with more significant deformity, a larger ankle brace may be necessary.
If conservative treatment fails to provide relief of pain and disability then surgery is considered. Numerous factors determine whether a patient is a surgical candidate. They include age, obesity, diabetes, vascular status, and the ability to be compliant with post-operative care. Surgery usually requires a prolonged period of nonweightbearing immobilization. Total recovery ranges from 3 months to one year. Clinical, x-ray, and MRI examination are all used to select the appropriate surgical procedure.