Posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is one of several terms to describe a painful, progressive flatfoot deformity in adults. Other terms include posterior tibial tendon insufficiency and adult acquired flatfoot. The term adult acquired flatfoot is more appropriate because it allows a broader recognition of causative factors, not only limited to the posterior tibial tendon, an event where the posterior tibial tendon looses strength and function. The adult acquired flatfoot is a progressive, symptomatic (painful) deformity resulting from gradual stretch (attenuation) of the tibialis posterior tendon as well as the ligaments that support the arch of the foot.
Causes of an adult acquired flatfoot may include Neuropathic foot (Charcot foot) secondary to Diabetes mellitus, Leprosy, Profound peripheral neuritis of any cause. Degenerative changes in the ankle, talonavicular or tarsometatarsal joints, or both, secondary to Inflammatory arthropathy, Osteoarthropathy, Fractures, Acquired flatfoot resulting from loss of the supporting structures of the medial longitudinal arch. Dysfunction of the tibialis posterior tendon Tear of the spring (calcaneoanvicular) ligament (rare). Tibialis anterior rupture (rare). Painful flatfoot can have other causes, such as tarsal coalition, but as such a patient will not present with a change in the shape of the foot these are not included here.
Not everyone with adult flatfoot has problems with pain. Those who do usually experience it around the ankle or in the heel. The pain is usually worse with activity, like walking or standing for extended periods. Sometimes, if the condition develops from arthritis in the foot, bony spurs along the top and side of the foot develop and make wearing shoes more painful. Diabetic patients need to watch for swelling or large lumps in the feet, as they may not notice any pain. They are also at higher risk for developing significant deformities from their flatfoot.
The diagnosis of tibialis posterior dysfunction is essentially clinical. However, plain radiographs of the foot and ankle are useful for assessing the degree of deformity and to confirm the presence or absence of degenerative changes in the subtalar and ankle articulations. The radiographs are also useful to exclude other causes of an acquired flatfoot deformity. The most useful radiographs are bilateral anteroposterior and lateral radiographs of the foot and a mortise (true anteroposterior) view of the ankle. All radiographs should be done with the patient standing. In most cases we see no role for magnetic resonance imaging or ultrasonography, as the diagnosis can be made clinically.
Non surgical Treatment
Initial treatment is based on the degree of deformity and flexibility at initial presentation. Conservative treatment includes orthotics or ankle foot orthoses (AFO) to support the posterior tibial tendon (PT) and the longitudinal arch, anti-inflammatories to help reduce pain and inflammation, activity modification which may include immobilization of the foot and physical therapy to help strengthen and rehabilitate the tendon.
In cases of PTTD that have progressed substantially or have failed to improve with non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. For some advanced cases, surgery may be the only option. Your foot and ankle surgeon will determine the best approach for you.