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 numerous causes of acquired adult flatfoot, including fracture or dislocation, tendon laceration, tarsal coalition, arthritis, neuroarthropathy, neurologic weakness, and iatrogenic causes. The most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot is posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
Patients will usually describe their initial symptoms as "ankle pain", as the PT Tendon becomes painful around the inside of the ankle joint. The pain will become more intense as the foot flattens out, due to the continued stretching and tearing of the PT Tendon. As the arches continue to fall, and pronation increases, the heel bone (Calcaneus) tilts into a position where it pinches against the ankle bone (Fibula), causing pain on both the inside and outside of the ankle. As the foot spends increased time in a flattened, or deformed position, Arthritis can begin to affect the joints of the foot, causing additional pain.
The diagnosis of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction and AAFD is usually made from a combination of symptoms, physical exam and x-ray imaging. The location of pain, shape of the foot, flexibility of the hindfoot joints and gait all may help your physician make the diagnosis and also assess how advanced the problem is.
Non surgical Treatment
Flatfoot can be treated with a variety of methods, including modified shoes, orthotic devices, a brace or cast, anti-inflammatory medications or limited steroid injections, rest, ice, and physical therapy. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
The indications for surgery are persistent pain and/or significant deformity. Sometimes the foot just feels weak and the assessment of deformity is best done by a foot and ankle specialist. If surgery is appropriate, a combination of soft tissue and bony procedures may be considered to correct alignment and support the medial arch, taking strain off failing ligaments. Depending upon the tissues involved and extent of deformity, the foot and ankle specialist will determine the necessary combination of procedures. Surgical procedures may include a medial slide calcaneal osteotomy to correct position of the heel, a lateral column lengthening to correct position in the midfoot and a medial cuneiform osteotomy or first metatarsal-tarsal fusion to correct elevation of the medial forefoot. The posterior tibial tendon may be reconstructed with a tendon transfer. In severe cases (stage III), the reconstruction may include fusion of the hind foot,, resulting in stiffness of the hind foot but the desired pain relief. In the most severe stage (stage IV), the deltoid ligament on the inside of the ankle fails, resulting in the deformity in the ankle. This deformity over time can result in arthritis in the ankle.