Progressive Flat Foot Treatment Options

Tendons connect muscles to bones and stretch across joints, enabling you to bend that joint. One of the most important tendons in the lower leg is the posterior tibial tendon. This tendon starts in the calf, stretches down behind the inside of he ankle, and attaches to bones in the middle of the foot.

The posterior tibial tendon helps hold your arch up and provides support as you step off on your toes when walking. If this tendon becomes inflamed, over-stretched, or torn, you may experience pain on the inner ankle and gradually lose the inner arch on the bottom of your foot, leading to flat foot.

Treatment Options

Without treatment, the flat foot that develops from posterior tibial tendon dysfunction eventually becomes rigid. Arthritis develops in the hindfoot. Pain increases and spreads to the outer side of the ankle. The way you walk may be affected and wearing shoes may be difficult.

The treatment your doctor recommends will depend on how far the condition has progressed. In the early stages, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction can be treated with rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and immobilization of the foot for 6 to 8 weeks with a rigid below-knee cast or boot to prevent overuse. After the cast is removed, shoe inserts, such as a heel wedge or arch support, may be helpful. If the condition is advanced, your doctor may recommend that you use a custom-made ankle-foot orthosis or support.

If conservative treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Several procedures can be used to treat progressive flat foot; often more than one procedure is performed at the same time. Your doctor will recommend a specific course of treatment based on your individual case. Surgical options include:

  • Tenosynovectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon will clean away (debride) and remove (excise) any inflamed tissue surrounding the tendon.
  • Osteotomy: This procedure changes the alignment of the heel bone (calcaneus). The surgeon may sometimes have to remove a portion of the bone.
  • Tendon transfer: This procedure uses some fibers from another tendon (the flexor digitorum longus, which helps bend the toes) to repair the damaged posterior tibial tendon.
  • Lateral column lengthening: In this procedure, the surgeon removes a small wedge-shaped piece of bone from either your hip or that of a cadaver and places it into the outside of the calcaneus. This helps realign the bones and recreates the arch.
  • Arthrodesis: This procedure fuses one or more bones together, eliminating movement in the joint. This stabilizes the hindfoot and prevents the condition from progressing further.

*Source:  American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society® http://www.aofas.org

*This material was codeveloped by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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