Tendons do a lot of work. In fact, a great deal of what happens when you walk can be related to tendons tugging and pulling in appropriate ways in their proper places. With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that on occasion, (probably because we too often forget to send them Thank you cards), tendons may decide that they’ve had it. They may buck their responsibilities, shirk their work, and in all other ways cease to function properly. And that may mean bad news for you. Take the posterior tibial tendon: it runs from the bottom of the calf, goes right under that bump on the inside of the ankle (the medial malleolus) and ends up attaching itself to a bone on the inside of the middle of your foot (the navicular bone). It’s the main tendon that keeps the arch of your foot in place, and it helps a bunch in walking, too. Over time, though, we tend to put a lot of stress on this faithful tendon, especially if we’ve put on extra weight, or do a lot of activities that stress it out, walking, running, hiking, or climbing stairs. Sometimes athletes (who do a lot of that walking and running stuff) may put so much stress on the tendon that it tears suddenly. But for many of us, damage may take place gradually (i.e. the tendon stretches out) until the tendon tells us that it flat out quits. (It sometimes doesn’t even give two weeks notice.) In short, you may develop posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD).
Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the most common cause of acquired adult flatfoot. Sometimes this can be a result of specific trauma, but usually the tendon becomes injured from wear and tear over time. This is more prevalent in individuals with an inherited flat foot but excessive weight, age, and level of activity are also contributing factors.
PTTD begins with a gradual stretching and loss of strength of the posterior tibial tendon which is the most important tendon supporting the arch of the human foot. Left untreated, this tendon will continue to lengthen and eventually rupture, leading to a progressive visible collapse of the arch of the foot. In the early stages, patients with PTTD will notice a pain and swelling along the inner ankle and arch. Many times, they are diagnosed with ?tendonitis? of the inner ankle. If the foot and ankle are not properly supported during this early phase, the posterior tibial tendon can rupture and devastating consequences will occur to the foot and ankle structure. The progressive adult acquired flatfoot deformity will cause the heel to roll inward in a ?valgus? or pronated direction while the forefoot will rotate outward causing a ?duckfooted? walking pattern. Eventually, significant arthritis can occur in the joints of the foot, the ankle and even the knee. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical so if you have noticed that one, or both, of your feet has become flatter in recent times come in and have it checked out.
Observe forefoot to hindfoot alignment. Do this with the patient sitting and the heel in neutral, and also with the patient standing. I like to put blocks under the forefoot with the heel in neutral to see how much forefoot correction is necessary to help hold the hindfoot position. One last note is to check all joints for stiffness. In cases of prolonged PTTD or coalition, rigid deformity is present and one must carefully check the joints of the midfoot and hindfoot for stiffness and arthritis in the surgical pre-planning.
Non surgical Treatment
Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is advised. If treated early enough, your symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of your condition can be arrested. In contrast, untreated PTTD could leave you with an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and increasing limitations on walking, running, or other activities. In many cases of PTTD, treatment can begin with non-surgical approaches that may include orthotic devices or bracing. To give your arch the support it needs, your foot and ankle surgeon may provide you with an ankle brace or a custom orthotic device that fits into the shoe. Immobilization. Sometimes a short-leg cast or boot is worn to immobilize the foot and allow the tendon to heal, or you may need to completely avoid all weight-bearing for a while. Physical therapy. Ultrasound therapy and exercises may help rehabilitate the tendon and muscle following immobilization. Medications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce the pain and inflammation. Shoe modifications. Your foot and ankle surgeon may advise changes to make with your shoes and may provide special inserts designed to improve arch support.
Although non-surgical treatments can successfully manage the symptoms, they do not correct the underlying problem. It can require a life-long commitment to wearing the brace during periods of increased pain or activity demands. This will lead a majority of patients to choose surgical correction of the deformity, through Reconstructive Surgery. All of the considerations that were extremely important during the evaluation stage become even more important when creating a surgical plan. Generally, a combination of procedures are utilized in the same setting, to allow full correction of the deformity. Many times, this can be performed as a same-day surgery, without need for an overnight hospital stay. However, one or two day hospital admissions can be utilized to help manage the post-operative pain. Although the recovery process can require a significant investment of time, the subsequent decades of improved function and activity level, as well as decreased pain, leads to a substantial return on your investment.