Adult-Acquired Flat Foot Deformity (AAFFD) is most commonly caused by a progressive degeneration of the tendon (tibialis posterior) that supports the arch of the foot. As the tendon ages or is subjected to repetitive trauma, it stretches out over time, the natural arch of the foot becomes less pronounced and the foot gradually flattens out. Although it is uncertain why this occurs, the problem is seen equally among men and women - at an increasing frequency with age. Occasionally, a patient will experience a traumatic form of the condition as a result of a fall from a height or abnormal landing during aerial sports such as gymnastics or basketball.
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.
The types of symptoms that may indicate Adult-Acquired Flat Foot Deformity include foot pain that worsens over time, loss of the arch, abnormal shoe wear (excessive wearing on the inner side of shoe from walking on the inner side of the foot) and an awkward appearance of the foot and ankle (when viewed from behind, heel and toes appear to go out to the side). It is important that we help individuals recognize the early symptoms of this condition, as there are many treatment options, depending upon the severity, the age of the patient, and the desired activity levels.
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
The adult acquired flatfoot is best treated early. Accurate assessment by your doctor will determine which treatment is suitable for you. Reduce your level of activity and follow the RICE regime. R - rest as often as you are able. Refrain from activity that will worsen your condition, such as sports and walking. I - ice, apply to the affected area, ensure you protect the area from frostbite by applying a towel over the foot before using the ice pack. C - compression, a Tubigrip or elasticated support bandage may be applied to relieve symptoms and ease pain and discomfort. E - elevate the affected foot to reduce painful swelling. You will be prescribed pain relief in the form of non-steroidal antiinflammatory medications (if you do not suffer with allergies or are asthmatic). Immobilisation of your affected foot - this will involve you having a below the knee cast for four to eight weeks. In certain circumstances it is possible for you to have a removable boot instead of a cast. A member of the foot and ankle team will advise as to whether this option is suitable for you. Footwear is important - it is advisable to wear flat sturdy lace-up shoes, for example, trainers or boots. This will not only support your foot, but will also accommodate orthoses (shoe inserts).
Surgical correction is dependent on the severity of symptoms and the stage of deformity. The goals of surgery are to create a more functional and stable foot. There are multiple procedures available to the surgeon and it may take several to correct a flatfoot deformity. Usually surgical treatment begins with removal of inflammatory tissue and repair of the posterior tibial tendon. A tendon transfer is performed if the posterior tibial muscle is weak or the tendon is badly damaged. The most commonly used tendon is the flexor digitorum longus tendon. This tendon flexes or moves the lesser toes downward. The flexor digitorum longus tendon is utilized due to its close proximity to the posterior tibial tendon and because there are minimal side effects with its loss. The remainder of the tendon is sutured to the flexor hallucis longus tendon that flexes the big toe so that little function is loss.