Most flat feet are not painful, particularly those flat feet seen in children. In the adult acquired flatfoot, pain occurs because soft tissues (tendons and ligaments) have been torn. The deformity progresses or worsens because once the vital ligaments and posterior tibial tendon are lost, nothing can take their place to hold up the arch of the foot. The painful, progressive adult acquired flatfoot affects women four times as frequently as men. It occurs in middle to older age people with a mean age of 60 years. Most people who develop the condition already have flat feet. A change occurs in one foot where the arch begins to flatten more than before, with pain and swelling developing on the inside of the ankle. Why this event occurs in some people (female more than male) and only in one foot remains poorly understood. Contributing factors increasing the risk of adult acquired flatfoot are diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
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.
As different types of flatfoot have different causes, the associated symptoms can be different for different people. Some generalized symptoms are listed. Pain along the course of the posterior tibial tendon which lies on the inside of the foot and ankle. This can be associated with swelling on the inside of the ankle. Pain that is worse with activity. High intensity or impact activities, such as running and jumping, can be very difficult. Some patients can have difficulty walking or even standing for long periods of time and may experience pain at the inside of the ankle and in the arch of the foot. Feeling like one is ?dragging their foot.? When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift position and put pressure on the outside ankle bone (fibula). This can cause pain in the bones and tendons in the outside of the ankle joint. Patients with an old injury or arthritis in the middle of the foot can have painful, bony bumps on the top and inside of the foot. These make shoe wear very difficult. Sometimes, the bony spurs are so large that they pinch the nerves which can result in numbness and tingling on the top of the foot and into the toes. Diabetic patients may not experience pain if they have damage to their nerves. They may only notice swelling or a large bump on the bottom of the foot. The large bump can cause skin problems and an ulcer (a sore that does not heal) may develop if proper diabetic shoe wear is not used.
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
Icing and anti-inflammatory medications can reduce inflammation and physical therapy can strengthen the tibial tendon. Orthotic inserts that go inside your shoes are a common way to treat and prevent flatfoot pain. Orthotics control the position of the foot and alleviate areas of pressure. In some cases immobilization in a cast or walking boot is necessary to relieve symptoms, and in severe cases surgery may be required to repair tendon damage.
If cast immobilization fails, surgery is the next alternative. Treatment goals include eliminating pain, halting deformity progression and improving mobility. Subtalar Arthroereisis, 15 minute outpatient procedure, may correct flexible flatfoot deformity (hyperpronation). The procedure involves placing an implant under the ankle joint (sinus tarsi) to prevent abnormal motion. Very little recovery time is required and it is completely reversible if necessary. Ask your Dallas foot doctor for more information about this exciting treatment possibility.