Collapsed arches occur in five percent of adults 40 years and older, especially those who are overweight or maintain sedentary lifestyles. At the onset of the condition, adult acquired flatfoot can be controlled with anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, taping, bracing, and orthotics. While most cases of adult-onset flatfoot require surgery, congenital flatfoot is an entirely different condition that is best treated with orthotics in children. Ninety percent of children born with flat feet will be fine with conservative treatment.
Causes of an adult acquired flatfoot may include Neuropathic foot (Charcot foot) secondary to Diabetes mellitus, Leprosy, Profound peripheral neuritis of any cause. Degenerative changes in the ankle, talonavicular or tarsometatarsal joints, or both, secondary to Inflammatory arthropathy, Osteoarthropathy, Fractures, Acquired flatfoot resulting from loss of the supporting structures of the medial longitudinal arch. Dysfunction of the tibialis posterior tendon Tear of the spring (calcaneoanvicular) ligament (rare). Tibialis anterior rupture (rare). Painful flatfoot can have other causes, such as tarsal coalition, but as such a patient will not present with a change in the shape of the foot these are not included here.
Patients often experience pain and/or deformity at the ankle or hindfoot. When the posterior tibial tendon does not work properly, a number of changes can occur to the foot and ankle. In the earlier stages, symptoms often include pain and tenderness along the posterior tibial tendon behind the inside of the ankle. As the tendon progressively fails, deformity of the foot and ankle may occur. This deformity can include progressive flattening of the arch, shifting of the heel so that it no longer is aligned underneath the rest of the leg, rotation and deformity of the forefoot, tightening of the heel cord, development of arthritis, and deformity of the ankle joint. At certain stages of this disorder, pain may shift from the inside to the outside aspect of the ankle as the heel shifts outward and structures are pinched laterally.
First, both feet should be examined with the patient standing and the entire lower extremity visible. The foot should be inspected from above as well as from behind the patient, as valgus angulation of the hindfoot is best appreciated when the foot is viewed from behind. Johnson described the so-called more-toes sign: with more advanced deformity and abduction of the forefoot, more of the lateral toes become visible when the foot is viewed from behind. The single-limb heel-rise test is an excellent determinant of the function of the posterior tibial tendon. The patient is asked to attempt to rise onto the ball of one foot while the other foot is suspended off the floor. Under normal circumstances, the posterior tibial muscle, which inverts and stabilizes the hindfoot, is activated as the patient begins to rise onto the forefoot. The gastrocnemius-soleus muscle group then elevates the calcaneus, and the heel-rise is accomplished. With dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, however, inversion of the heel is weak, and either the heel remains in valgus or the patient is unable to rise onto the forefoot. If the patient can do a single-limb heel-rise, the limb may be stressed further by asking the patient to perform this maneuver repetitively.
Non surgical Treatment
It is imperative that you seek treatment should you notice any symptoms of a falling arch or PTTD. Due to the progressive nature of this condition, your foot will have a much higher chance of staying strong and healthy with early treatment. When pain first appears, your doctor will evaluate your foot to confirm a flatfoot diagnosis and begin an appropriate treatment plan. This may involve rest, anti-inflammatory medications, shoe modifications, physical therapy, orthotics and a possible boot or brace. When treatment can be applied at the beginning, symptoms can most often be resolved without the need for surgery.
In cases where cast immobilization, orthoses and shoe therapy have failed, surgery is the next alternative. The goal of surgery and non-surgical treatment is to eliminate pain, stop progression of the deformity and improve mobility of the patient. Opinions vary as to the best surgical treatment for adult acquired flatfoot. Procedures commonly used to correct the condition include tendon debridement, tendon transfers, osteotomies (cutting and repositioning of bone) and joint fusions. (See surgical correction of adult acquired flatfoot). Patients with adult acquired flatfoot are advised to discuss thoroughly the benefits vs. risks of all surgical options. Most procedures have long-term recovery mandating that the correct procedure be utilized to give the best long-term benefit. Most flatfoot surgical procedures require six to twelve weeks of cast immobilization. Joint fusion procedures require eight weeks of non-weightbearing on the operated foot - meaning you will be on crutches for two months. The bottom line is, Make sure all of your non-surgical options have been covered before considering surgery. Your primary goals with any treatment are to eliminate pain and improve mobility. In many cases, with the properly designed foot orthosis or ankle brace, these goals can be achieved without surgical intervention.