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.
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.
Symptoms shift around a bit, depending on what stage of PTTD you?re in. For instance, you?re likely to start off with tendonitis, or inflammation of the posterior tibial tendon. This will make the area around the inside of your ankle and possibly into your arch swollen, reddened, warm to the touch, and painful. Inflammation may actually last throughout the stages of PTTD. The ankle will also begin to roll towards the inside of the foot (pronate), your heel may tilt, and you may experience some pain in your leg (e.g. shin splints). As the condition progresses, the toes and foot begin to turn outward, so that when you look at your foot from the back (or have a friend look for you, because-hey-that can be kind of a difficult
maneuver to pull off) more toes than usual will be visible on the outside (i.e. the side with the pinky toe). At this stage, the foot?s still going to be flexible, although it will likely have flattened somewhat due to the lack of support from the posterior tibial tendon. You may also find it difficult to stand on your toes. Finally, you may reach a stage in which your feet are inflexibly flat. At this point, you may experience pain below your ankle on the outside of your foot, and you might even develop arthritis in the ankle.
In the early stages of dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, most of the discomfort is located medially along the course of the tendon and the patient reports fatigue and aching on the plantar-medial aspect of the foot and ankle. Swelling is common if the dysfunction is associated with tenosynovitis. As dysfunction of the tendon progresses, maximum pain occurs laterally in the sinus tarsi because of impingement of the fibula against the calcaneus. With increasing deformity, patients report that the shape of the foot changes and that it becomes increasingly difficult to wear shoes. Many patients no longer report pain in the medial part of the foot and ankle after a complete rupture of the posterior tibial tendon has occurred; instead, the pain is located laterally. If a fixed deformity has not occurred, the patient may report that standing or walking with the hindfoot slightly inverted alleviates the lateral impingement and relieves the pain in the lateral part of the foot.
Non surgical Treatment
PTTD is a progressive condition. Early treatment is needed to prevent relentless progression to a more advanced disease which can lead to more problems for that affected foot. In general, the treatments include rest. Reducing or even stopping activities that worsen the pain is the initial step. Switching to low-impact exercise such as cycling, elliptical trainers, or swimming is helpful. These activities do not put a large impact load on the foot. Ice. Apply cold packs on the most painful area of the posterior tibial tendon frequently to keep down the swelling. Placing ice over the tendon immediately after completing an exercise helps to decrease the inflammation around the tendon.
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Medication (NSAIDS). Drugs, such as arcoxia, voltaren and celebrex help to reduce pain and inflammation. Taking such medications prior to an exercise activity helps to limit inflammation around the tendon. However, long term use of these drugs can be harmful to you with side effects including peptic ulcer disease and renal impairment or failure. Casting. A short leg cast or walking boot may be used for 6 to 8 weeks in the acutely painful foot. This allows the tendon to rest and the swelling to go down. However, a cast causes the other muscles of the leg to atrophy (decrease in strength) and thus is only used if no other conservative treatment works. Most people can be helped with orthotics and braces. An orthotic is a shoe insert. It is the most common non-surgical treatment for a flatfoot and it is very safe to use. A custom orthotic is required in patients who have moderate to severe changes in the shape of the foot. Physiotherapy helps to strengthen the injured tendon and it can help patients with mild to moderate disease of the posterior tibial tendon.
When conservative care fails to control symptoms and/or deformity, then surgery may be needed. The goal of surgical treatment is to obtain good alignment while keeping the foot and ankle as flexible as possible. The most common procedures used with this condition include arthrodesis (fusion), osteotomy (cutting out a wedge-shaped piece of bone), and lateral column lengthening. Lateral column lengthening involves the use of a bone graft at the calcaneocuboid joint. This procedure helps restore the medial longitudinal arch (arch along the inside of the foot). A torn tendon or spring ligament will be repaired or reconstructed. Other surgical options include tendon shortening or lengthening. Or the surgeon may move one or more tendons. This procedure is called a tendon transfer. Tendon transfer uses another tendon to help the posterior tibial tendon function more effectively. A tendon transfer is designed to change the force and angle of pull on the bones of the arch. It’s not clear yet from research evidence which surgical procedure works best for this condition. A combination of surgical treatments may be needed. It may depend on your age, type and severity of deformity and symptoms, and your desired level of daily activity.