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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.
Many health conditions can create a painful flatfoot, an injury to the 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. In addition to ligament injuries, fractures and dislocations of the bones in the midfoot can also lead to a flatfoot deformity.
Posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is divided into stages by most foot and ankle specialists. In stage I, there is pain along the posterior tibial tendon without deformity or collapse of the arch. The patient has the somewhat flat or normal-appearing foot they have always had. In stage II, deformity from the condition has started to occur, resulting in some collapse of the arch, which may or may not be noticeable. The patient may feel it as a weakness in the arch. Many patients initially present in stage II, as the ligament failure can occur at the same time as the tendon failure and therefore deformity can already be occurring as the tendon is becoming symptomatic. In stage III, the deformity has progressed to the extent where the foot becomes fixed (rigid) in its deformed position. Finally, in stage IV, deformity occurs at the ankle in addition to the deformity in the foot.
Although you can do the “wet test” at home, a thorough examination by a doctor will be needed to identify why the flatfoot developed. Possible causes include a congenital abnormality, a bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, arthritis or neurologic weakness. For example, an inability to rise up on your toes while standing on the affected foot may indicate damage to the posterior tibial tendon (PTT), which supports the heel and forms the arch. If “too many toes” show on the outside of your foot when the doctor views you from the rear, your shinbone (tibia) may be sliding off the anklebone (talus), another indicator of damage to the PTT. Be sure to wear your regular shoes to the examination. An irregular wear pattern on the bottom of the shoe is another indicator of acquired adult flatfoot. Your physician may request X-rays to see how the bones of your feet are aligned. Muscle and tendon strength are tested by asking you to move the foot while the doctor holds it.
Non surgical Treatment
Nonoperative therapy for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction has been shown to yield 67% good-to-excellent results in 49 patients with stage 2 and 3 deformities. A rigid UCBL orthosis with a medial forefoot post was used in nonobese patients with flexible heel deformities correctible to neutral and less than 10? of forefoot varus. A molded ankle foot orthosis was used in obese patients with fixed deformity and forefoot varus greater than 10?. Average length of orthotic use was 15 months. Four patients ultimately elected to have surgery. The authors concluded that orthotic management is successful in older low-demand patients and that surgical treatment can be reserved for those patients who fail nonoperative treatment.
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.