Posterior tibial tendon insufficiency (also called posterior tibial tendon dysfunction or adult acquired flatfoot) has been named literally after failure of the posterior tibial tendon. However, the condition is caused not only by the progressive failure of the posterior tibial tendon; it is also failure of associated ligaments and joints on the inner side of the ankle and foot. This results in collapse of the arch of the foot, along with the deformity which most often becomes the debilitating problem in its later stages. While at the beginning the common symptom is pain over the tendon in the inner part of the hindfoot and midfoot, later on it is the deformity that can threaten a person?s ability to walk. Just as the tendon degenerates and loses its function, other soft tissue on the same inner side of the foot - namely the ligaments - degenerate and fail. Ligaments are responsible for holding bones in place, and when they fail, bones shift to places where they shouldn?t; deformity is the result. The deformity causes malalignment, leading to more stress and failure of the ligaments.
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.
In many cases, adult flatfoot causes no pain or problems. In others, pain may be severe. Many people experience aching pain in the heel and arch and swelling along the inner side of the foot.
Your podiatrist is very familiar with tendons that have just about had enough, and will likely be able to diagnose this condition by performing a physical exam of your foot. He or she will probably examine the area visually and by feel, will inquire about your medical history (including past pain or injuries), and may also observe your feet as you walk. You may also be asked to attempt standing on your toes. This may be done by having you lift your ?good? foot (the one without the complaining tendon) off the ground, standing only on your problem foot. (You may be instructed to place your hands against the wall to help with balance.) Then, your podiatrist will ask you to try to go up on your toes on the bad foot. If you have difficulty doing so, it may indicate a problem with your posterior tibial tendon. Some imaging technology may be used to diagnose this condition, although it?s more likely the doctor will rely primarily on a physical exam. However, he or she may order scans such as an MRI or CT scan to look at your foot?s interior, and X-rays might also be helpful in a diagnosis.
Non surgical Treatment
Non-surgical treatment consists of custom orthoses and or special bracing devices along with supportive measures aimed at reducing the symptoms. While non-surgical treatment helps the majority of patients with PTTD, progressive cases may require surgical treatment including soft tissue tendon transfers, osteotomies and lastly fusion.
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.