Tendons do a lot of work. In fact, a great deal of what happens when you walk can be related to tendons tugging and pulling in appropriate ways in their proper places. With this in mind, it?s hardly surprising that on occasion, (probably because we too often forget to send them ?Thank you? cards), tendons may decide that they?ve had it. They may buck their responsibilities, shirk their work, and in all other ways cease to function properly. And that may mean bad news for you. Take the posterior tibial tendon: it runs from the bottom of the calf, goes right under that bump on the inside of the ankle (the medial malleolus) and ends up attaching itself to a bone on the inside of the middle of your foot (the navicular bone). It?s the main tendon that keeps the arch of your foot in place, and it helps a bunch in walking, too. Over time, though, we tend to put a lot of stress on this faithful tendon, especially if we?ve put on extra weight, or do a lot of activities that stress it out, walking, running, hiking, or climbing stairs. Sometimes athletes (who do a lot of that walking and running stuff) may put so much stress on the tendon that it tears suddenly. But for many of us, damage may take place gradually (i.e. the tendon stretches out) until the tendon tells us that it flat out quits. (It sometimes doesn?t even give two weeks notice.) In short, you may develop posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD).
Overuse of the posterior tibial tendon is often the cause of PTTD. In fact, the symptoms usually occur after activities that involve the tendon, such as running, walking, hiking, or climbing stairs.
Posterior tibial tendon insufficiency is divided into stages by most foot and ankle specialists. In stage I, there is pain along the posterior tibial tendon without deformity or collapse of the arch. The patient has the somewhat flat or normal-appearing foot they have always had. In stage II, deformity from the condition has started to occur, resulting in some collapse of the arch, which may or may not be noticeable. The patient may feel it as a weakness in the arch. Many patients initially present in stage II, as the ligament failure can occur at the same time as the tendon failure and therefore deformity can already be occurring as the tendon is becoming symptomatic. In stage III, the deformity has progressed to the extent where the foot becomes fixed (rigid) in its deformed position. Finally, in stage IV, deformity occurs at the ankle in addition to the deformity in the foot.
In the early stages of dysfunction of the posterior tibial tendon, most of the discomfort is located medially along the course of the tendon and the patient reports fatigue and aching on the plantar-medial aspect of the foot and ankle. Swelling is common if the dysfunction is associated with tenosynovitis. As dysfunction of the tendon progresses, maximum pain occurs laterally in the sinus tarsi because of impingement of the fibula against the calcaneus. With increasing deformity, patients report that the shape of the foot changes and that it becomes increasingly difficult to wear shoes. Many patients no longer report pain in the medial part of the foot and ankle after a complete rupture of the posterior tibial tendon has occurred; instead, the pain is located laterally. If a fixed deformity has not occurred, the patient may report that standing or walking with the hindfoot slightly inverted alleviates the lateral impingement and relieves the pain in the lateral part of the foot.
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.
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.