For many adults, years of wear and tear on the feet can lead to a gradual and potentially debilitating collapse of the arch. However, a new treatment approach based on early surgical intervention is achieving a high rate of longterm success. Based on results of clinical studies of adults with flat feet, we now believe that reconstructive surgery in the early stages of the condition can prevent complications later on. Left untreated, the arch eventually will collapse, causing debilitating arthritis in the foot and ankle. At this end stage, surgical fusions are often required to stabilize the 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.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
Examination by your foot and ankle specialist can confirm the diagnosis for most patients. An ultrasound exam performed in the office setting can evaluate the status of the posterior tibial tendon, the tendon which is primarily responsible for supporting the arch structure of the foot.
Non surgical Treatment
Conservative treatment is indicated for nearly all patients initially before surgical management is considered. The key factors in determining appropriate treatment are whether acute inflammation and whether the foot deformity is flexible or fixed. However, the ultimate treatment is often determined by the patients, most of whom are women aged 40 or older. Compliance can be a problem, especially in stages I and II. It helps to emphasise to the patients that tibialis posterior dysfunction is a progressive and chronic condition and that several fittings and a trial of several different orthoses or treatments are often needed before a tolerable treatment is found.
A new type of surgery has been developed in which surgeons can re-construct the flat foot deformity and also the deltoid ligament using a tendon called the peroneus longus. A person is able to function fully without use of the peroneus longus but they can also be taken from deceased donors if needed. The new surgery was performed on four men and one woman. An improved alignment of the ankle was still evident nine years later, and all had good mobility 8 to 10 years after the surgery. None had developed arthritis.