Chronic posterior tibial tendon insufficiency can result in acquired adult flatfoot deformity. This is a chronic foot condition where the soft-tissues (including the posterior tibial tendon, deltoid and spring ligaments) on the inside aspect of the ankle are subject to repetitive load during walking and standing. Over time these structures may become painful and swollen ultimately failing. When these supporting structures fail the result is a change in the alignment of the foot. This condition is typically associated with a progressive flatfoot deformity. This type of deformity leads to increased strain on the supporting structures on the inside of the ankle and loading through the outer aspect of the ankle and hind-foot. Both the inside and outside of the ankle can become painful resulting significant disability. This condition can often be treated without surgery by strengthening the involved muscles and tendons and by bracing the ankle. When non-operative treatment fails, surgery can improve the alignment replace the injured tendon. Alignment and function can be restored, however, the time to maximal improvement is typically six months but, can take up to a year.
A person with flat feet has greater load placed on the posterior tibial tendon which is the main tendon unit supporting up the arch of the foot. Throughout life, aging leads to decreased strength of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The blood supply diminishes to tendons with aging as arteries narrow. Heavier, obese patients have more weight on the arch and have greater narrowing of arteries due to atherosclerosis. In some people, the posterior tibial tendon finally gives out or tears. This is not a sudden event in most cases. Rather, it is a slow, gradual stretching followed by inflammation and degeneration of the tendon. Once the posterior tibial tendon stretches, the ligaments of the arch stretch and tear. The bones of the arch then move out of position with body weight pressing down from above. The foot rotates inward at the ankle in a movement called pronation. The arch appears collapsed, and the heel bone is tilted to the inside. The deformity can progress until the foot literally dislocates outward from under the ankle joint.
At first you may notice pain and swelling along the medial (big toe) side of the foot. This is where the posterior tibialis tendon travels from the back of the leg under the medial ankle bone to the foot. As the condition gets worse, tendon failure occurs and the pain gets worse. Some patients experience pain along the lateral (outside) edge of the foot, too. You may find that your feet hurt at the end of the day or after long periods of standing. Some people with this condition have trouble rising up on their toes. They may be unable to participate fully in sports or other recreational activities.
Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction is diagnosed with careful clinical observation of the patient?s gait (walking), range of motion testing for the foot and ankle joints, and diagnostic imaging. People with flatfoot deformity walk with the heel angled outward, also called over-pronation. Although it is normal for the arch to impact the ground for shock absorption, people with PTTD have an arch that fully collapses to the ground and does not reform an arch during the entire gait period. After evaluating the ambulation pattern, the foot and ankle range of motion should be tested. Usually the affected foot will have decreased motion to the ankle joint and the hindfoot. Muscle strength may also be weaker as well. An easy test to perform for PTTD is the single heel raise where the patient is asked to raise up on the ball of his or her effected foot. A normal foot type can lift up on the toes without pain and the heel will invert slightly once the person has fully raised the heel up during the test. In early phases of PTTD the patient may be able to lift up the heel but the heel will not invert. An elongated or torn posterior tibial tendon, which is a mid to late finding of PTTD, will prohibit the patient from fully rising up on the heel and will cause intense pain to the arch. Finally diagnostic imaging, although used alone cannot diagnose PTTD, can provide additional information for an accurate diagnosis of flatfoot deformity. Xrays of the foot can show the practitioner important angular relationships of the hindfoot and forefoot which help diagnose flatfoot deformity. Most of the time, an MRI is not needed to diagnose PTTD but is a tool that should be considered in advanced cases of flatfoot deformity. If a partial tear of the posterior tibial tendon is of concern, then an MRI can show the anatomic location of the tear and the extensiveness of the injury.
Non surgical Treatment
Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is advised. If treated early enough, your symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of your condition can be arrested. In contrast, untreated PTTD could leave you with an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and increasing limitations on walking, running, or other activities. In many cases of PTTD, treatment can begin with non-surgical approaches that may include orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may provide you with an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into the shoe. Immobilization. Sometimes a short-leg cast or boot is worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal, or you may need to completely avoid all weight-bearing for a while. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may advise changes to make with your shoes and may provide special inserts designed to improve arch support.
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.