When we have foot pain, it isn’t always easy to pinpoint the source because we can’t visualize the structure of all the bones, muscles, and tendons on the inside. The posterior tibial tendon plays an important supportive role within the structure of the foot. It attaches to your calf muscle and then comes down along the inside of your ankle, connecting to the bones inside your foot at the other side. This tendon’s main function is to hold up your arch and support your foot during each and every movement. Every step, run, walk, or jump is made possible with the support from this crucial tendon. While it is designed to perform such an important role, it is vulnerable to stress and injury. A tear during a traumatic injury or stress from overuse can injure the tissues within the tendon. This kind of injury is referred to as posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD). A really hard fall during a sports game or exposure to a repetitive motion, such as the impact on feet during soccer, tennis, football or basketball, can cause an injury. Flat foot and flat feet in adults can exacerbate this condition. The tendon can experience small tears and become inflamed. If the inflammation is allowed to continue and worsen over time, it will weaken further and could rupture completely.
There are multiple factors contributing to the development of this problem. Damage to the nerves, ligaments, and/or tendons of the foot can cause subluxation (partial dislocation) of the subtalar or talonavicular joints. Bone fracture is a possible cause. The resulting joint deformity from any of these problems can lead to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon has always been linked with adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). The loss of active and passive pull of the tendon alters the normal biomechanics of the foot and ankle. The reasons for this can be many and varied as well. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and prolonged use of steroids are some of the more common causes of adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD) brought on by impairment of the posterior tibialis tendon. Overstretching or rupture of the tendon results in tendon and muscle imbalance in the foot leading to adult-acquired flatfoot deformity (AAFD). Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common causes. About half of all adults with this type of arthritis will develop adult flatfoot deformity over time. In such cases, the condition is gradual and progressive. Obesity has been linked with this condition. Loss of blood supply for any reason in the area of the posterior tibialis tendon is another factor. Other possible causes include bone fracture or dislocation, a torn or stretched tendon, or a neurologic condition causing weakness.
Many patients with this condition have no pain or symptoms. When problems do arise, the good news is that acquired flatfoot treatment is often very effective. Initially, it will be important to rest and avoid activities that worsen the pain.
Clinicians need to recognize the early stage of this syndrome which includes pain, swelling, tendonitis and disability. The musculoskeletal portion of the clinical exam can help determine the stage of the disease. It is important to palpate the posterior tibial tendon and test its muscle strength. This is tested by asking patient to plantarflex and invert the foot. Joint range of motion is should be assessed as well. Stiffness of the joints may indicate longstanding disease causing a rigid deformity. A weightbearing examination should be performed as well. A complete absence of the medial longitudinal arch is often seen. In later stages the head of the talus bone projects outward to the point of a large “lump” in the arch. Observing the patient’s feet from behind shows a significant valgus rotation of the heel. From behind, the “too many toes” sign may be seen as well. This is when there is abducution of the forefoot in the transverse plane allowing the toes to be seen from behind. Dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon can be assessed by asking the patient to stand on his/her toes on the affected foot. If they are unable to, this indicates the disease is in a more advanced stage with the tendon possibly completely ruptured.
Non surgical Treatment
A patient who has acute tenosynovitis has pain and swelling along the medial aspect of the ankle. The patient is able to perform a single-limb heel-rise test but has pain when doing so. Inversion of the foot against resistance is painful but still strong. The patient should be managed with rest, the administration of appropriate anti-inflammatory medication, and immobilization. The injection of corticosteroids is not recommended. Immobilization with either a rigid below-the-knee cast or a removable cast or boot may be used to prevent overuse and subsequent rupture of the tendon. A removable stirrup-brace is not initially sufficient as it does not limit motion in the sagittal plane, a component of the pathological process. The patient should be permitted to walk while wearing the cast or boot during the six to eight-week period of immobilization. At the end of that time, a decision must be made regarding the need for additional treatment. If there has been marked improvement, the patient may begin wearing a stiff-soled shoe with a medial heel-and-sole wedge to invert the hindfoot. If there has been only mild or moderate improvement, a longer period in the cast or boot may be tried.
If conservative treatment fails surgical intervention is offered. For a Stage 1 deformity a posterior tibial tendon tenosynovectomy (debridement of the tendon) or primary repair may be indicated. For Stage 2 a combination of Achilles lengthening with bone cuts, calcaneal osteotomies, and tendon transfers is common. Stage 2 flexible PTTD is the most common stage patients present with for treatment. In Stage 3 or 4 PTTD isolated fusions, locking two or more joints together, maybe indicated. All treatment is dependent on the stage and severity at presentation with the goals and activity levels of the patient in mind. Treatment is customized to the individual patient needs.