What Is Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction ?
Chronic posterior tibial tendon insufficiency can result in acquired adult flatfoot deformity. This is a chronic foot condition where the soft-tissues (including the posterior tibial tendon, deltoid and spring ligaments) on the inside aspect of the ankle are subject to repetitive load during walking and standing. Over time these structures may become painful and swollen ultimately failing. When these supporting structures fail the result is a change in the alignment of the foot. This condition is typically associated with a progressive flatfoot deformity. This type of deformity leads to increased strain on the supporting structures on the inside of the ankle and loading through the outer aspect of the ankle and hind-foot. Both the inside and outside of the ankle can become painful resulting significant disability. This condition can often be treated without surgery by strengthening the involved muscles and tendons and by bracing the ankle. When non-operative treatment fails, surgery can improve the alignment replace the injured tendon. Alignment and function can be restored, however, the time to maximal improvement is typically six months but, can take up to a year.
The cause of posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is not completely understood. The condition commonly does not start from one acute trauma but is a process of gradual degeneration of the soft tissues supporting the medial (inner) side of the foot. It is most often associated with a foot that started out somewhat flat or pronated (rolled inward). This type of foot places more stress on the medial soft tissue structures, which include the posterior tibial tendon and ligaments on the inner side of the foot. Children nearly fully grown can end up with flat feet, the majority of which are no problem. However, if the deformity is severe enough it can cause significant functional limitations at that age and later on if soft tissue failure occurs. Also, young adults with normally aligned feet can acutely injure their posterior tibial tendon from a trauma and not develop deformity. The degenerative condition in patients beyond their twenties is different from the acute injuries in young patients or adolescent deformities, where progression of deformity is likely to occur.
Pain along the inside of the foot and ankle, where the tendon lies. This may or may not be associated with swelling in the area. Pain that is worse with activity. High-intensity or high-impact activities, such as running, can be very difficult. Some patients can have trouble walking or standing for a long time. Pain on the outside of the ankle. When the foot collapses, the heel bone may shift to a new position outwards. This can put pressure on the outside ankle bone. The same type of pain is found in arthritis in the back of the foot. Asymmetrical collapsing of the medial arch on the affected side.
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
What are the treatment options? In early stages an orthotic that caters for a medially deviated subtalar joint ac-cess. Examples of these are the RX skive, Medafeet MOSI device. Customised de-vices with a Kirby skive or MOSI adaptation will provide greater control than a prefabricated device. If the condition develops further a UCBL orthotic or an AFO (ankle foot orthotic) could be necessary for greater control. Various different forms of surgery are available depending upon the root cause of the issue and severity.
Good to excellent results for more than 80% of patients have been reported at five years' follow up for the surgical interventions recommended below. However, the postoperative recovery is a lengthy process, and most surgical procedures require patients to wear a plaster cast for two to three months. Although many patients report that their function is well improved by six months, in our experience a year is required to recover truly and gain full functional improvement after the surgery. Clearly, some patients are not candidates for such major reconstructive surgery.