Adult acquired flat foot was first described in the late 1960s as something that occurred after trauma, as a result of a tear to the tibial posterior tendon. However, by 1969 two doctors called Kettlekamp and Alexander described cases in which no trauma had taken place. They referred to the condition as "tibial posterior tendon dysfunction" and this became known as the most common type of adult acquired flat foot.
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.
Often, this condition is only present in one foot, but it can affect both. Adult acquired flatfoot symptoms vary, but can swelling of the foot's inner side and aching heel and arch pain. Some patients experience no pain, but others may experience severe pain. Symptoms may increase during long periods of standing, resulting in fatigue. Symptoms may change over time as the condition worsens. The pain may move to the foot's outer side, and some patients may develop arthritis in the ankle and foot.
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
Depending on the stage of the deformity and patient?s functional goals, various treatment options are available. Some patients improve with conservative care which includes rest and immobilization, shoe modifications, orthoses and bracing, or physical therapy. Surgery might be warranted for advanced stages of the condition. Often a combination of procedures including tendon and muscle augmentation, tendon transfers, realigning of bones or fusion of certain joints might be necessary in more advanced cases. Your doctor will evaluate and recommend an individualized plan of care with your specific needs in mind.
Types of surgery your orthopaedist may discuss with you include arthrodesis, or welding (fusing) one or more of the bones in the foot/ankle together. Osteotomy, or cutting and reshaping a bone to correct alignment. Excision, or removing a bone or bone spur. Synovectomy, or cleaning the sheath covering a tendon. Tendon transfer, or using a piece of one tendon to lengthen or replace another. Having flat feet is a serious matter. If you are experiencing foot pain and think it may be related to flat feet, talk to your orthopaedist.