Tendons do a lot of work. In fact, a great deal of what happens when you walk can be related to tendons tugging and pulling in appropriate ways in their proper places. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that on occasion, (probably because we too often forget to send them Thank you cards), tendons may decide that they’ve had it. They may buck their responsibilities, shirk their work, and in all other ways cease to function properly. And that may mean bad news for you. Take the posterior tibial tendon: it runs from the bottom of the calf, goes right under that bump on the inside of the ankle (the medial malleolus) and ends up attaching itself to a bone on the inside of the middle of your foot (the navicular bone). It’s the main tendon that keeps the arch of your foot in place, and it helps a bunch in walking, too. Over time, though, we tend to put a lot of stress on this faithful tendon, especially if we’ve put on extra weight, or do a lot of activities that stress it out, walking, running, hiking, or climbing stairs. Sometimes athletes (who do a lot of that walking and running stuff) may put so much stress on the tendon that it tears suddenly. But for many of us, damage may take place gradually (i.e. the tendon stretches out) until the tendon tells us that it flat out quits. (It sometimes doesn’t even give two weeks notice.) In short, you may develop posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD).
As discussed above, many different problems 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 support the arch of 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. An injury to the tendons or ligaments in the foot can cause the joints to fall out of alignment. The ligaments support the bones and prevent them from moving. If the ligaments are torn, the foot will become flat and painful. This more commonly occurs in the middle of the foot (Lisfranc injury), but can also occur in the back of the foot. Injuries to tendons of the foot can occur either in one instance (traumatically) or with repeated use over time (overuse injury). Regardless of the cause, if tendon function is altered, the forces that are transmitted across joints in the foot are changed and this can lead to increased stress on joint cartilage and ligaments. In addition to tendon and ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity. People with diabetes or with nerve problems that limits normal feeling in the feet, can have collapse of the arch or of the entire foot. This type of arch collapse is typically more severe than that seen in patients with normal feeling in their feet. In addition to the ligaments not holding the bones in place, the bones themselves can sometimes fracture and disintegrate without the patient feeling any pain. This may result in a severely deformed foot that is very challenging to correct with surgery. Special shoes or braces are the best method for dealing with this problem.
The first stage represents inflammation and symptoms originating from an irritated posterior tibial tendon, which is still functional. Stage two is characterized by a change in the alignment of the foot noted on observation while standing (see above photos). The deformity is supple meaning the foot is freely movable and a ?normal? position can be restored by the examiner. Stage two is also associated with the inability to perform a single-leg heel rise. The third stage is dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon is a flatfoot deformity that becomes stiff because of arthritis. Prolonged deformity causes irritation to the involved joints resulting in arthritis. The fourth phase is a flatfoot deformity either supple (stage two) or stiff (stage 3) with involvement of the ankle joint. This occurs when the deltoid ligament, the major supporting structure on the inside of the ankle, fails to provide support. The ankle becomes unstable and will demonstrate a tilted appearance on X-ray. Failure of the deltoid ligament results from an inward displacement of the weight bearing forces. When prolonged, this change can lead to ankle arthritis. The vast majority of patients with acquired adult flatfoot deformity are stage 2 by the time they seek treatment from a physician.
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
Orthoses (insoles, functional orthoses, ankle supports, braces, ankle foot orthoses (AFOs)) – are usually custom-made to increase the functional stability of the foot and improve the mechanical properties of the tendon as well as reducing the actual degree of strain on the tendon. This reduces pain and inflammation. Physiotherapy – exercises and physiotherapy are often used to increase mobility, strengthen the tendon itself, stretch your Achilles tendon as well as reduce pain. Once the tendon has been stretched (stage one), the heel starts rolling outwards. Total immobilisation in a cast may help the symptoms to subside and prevent progression of the deformity in a smaller percentage of patients. Long-term use of orthoses may help stop progression of the deformity and reduce pain without surgery. Non-surgical treatment is unlikely to prevent progression to stage three and four but may be chosen by some patients who either are unsuitable for surgery or prefer not to have surgery.
If initial conservative therapy of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency fails, surgical treatment is considered. Operative treatment of stage 1 disease involves release of the tendon sheath, tenosynovectomy, debridement of the tendon with excision of flap tears, and repair of longitudinal tears. A short-leg walking cast is worn for 3 weeks postoperatively. Teasdall and Johnson reported complete relief of pain in 74% of 14 patients undergoing this treatment regimen for stage 1 disease. Surgical debridement of tenosynovitis in early stages is believed to possibly prevent progression of disease to later stages of dysfunction.