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Family Foot & Ankle Specialists

Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction

Tendonitis in the foot is a common problem because we use our feet continuously. It is a common example of an overuse injury. One of the most frequently affected tendons is the posterior tibial tendon, a structure that is normally hard at work, helping to hold the arch up and prevent over-pronation or rolling in of the foot. This is a major cause of adult flat foot.

The posterior tibial tendon (below) runs behind the inside bump on the ankle (the medial malleolus), across the instep, and attaches to the bottom of the foot.


Symptoms of Posterior Tibial Tendonitis:
The symptoms of tendonitis of the posterior tibial tendon include pain (below) in the instep area of the foot and swelling along the course of the tendon. The patient may also experience pain and swelling right behind the inner ankle bone. There is pain upon palpation along the course of the posterior tibial tendon behind the inner ankle. There may also be burning, shooting, tingling, stabbing pain , because the nerve is inflamed inside the tarsal tunnel. Patients experience significant pain when walking, steadily worsening toward the end of the day. There is significant pain when the patient inverts his/her foot, as well as pain upon passive stretching of the posterior tibial tendon, and on eversion or flattening of the foot.

In some cases the tendon may actually rupture or tear, due to weakening of the tendon by the inflammatory process. Rupture of the tendon leads to a fairly pronounced flatfoot deformity that is easily recognizable.

Signs You Have Posterior Tibial Tendonitis:

1. The patient is viewed standing from behind. The amount of heel valgus on the affected side is     noted. The patient is then asked to stand on his toes. The heel should invert upon standing in     the normal foot without posterior tibial tendon dysfunction.
2. A very popular test for posterior tibial tendon dysfunction is the single heel rise. The patient is     asked to stand on his toes standing on one foot. They will not be able to perform this maneuver     and if they are, there will be significant pain upon single heel rise. If the patient is able to do the     test, they are asked to repeat it and will soon start feeling intense pain if a tendonitis is     present.
3. In some difficult cases, an MRI scan may be useful to determine whether the tendon has     ruptured.

What Causes Posterior Tibial Tendonitis?

Problems with the posterior tibial tendon seem to occur in stages. Initially, irritation of the outer covering of the tendon called the paratenon causes a paratendonitis (.avi movie). This simply indicates that there is inflammation around the tendon as it runs through the tarsal tunnel. As we age, the tendon is subject to degeneration within the substance of the tendon. This creates a situation where the tendon becomes thickened, sometimes to the extent that a nodule forms within the tendon. The normal arrangement of the fibers of the tendon (similar to a nylon rope) becomes jumbled, and the tendon loses strength. This condition is called tendonosis. In many cases, the two conditions are present simultaneously. The weakened, degenerative tendon sets the stage for the possibility of actual rupture of the posterior tibial tendon. Flat foot types, with equinus influences (tight heel cords, pronation during late stance, too low a heel and inadequate support in footwear are factors which can lead to Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction.

Walking up and down hills (golf course) hyperpronating and supinating activities (golf swing) can bring on symptoms. Diabetics, overweight, and hypertensive people are particularly at risk.

Signs and symptoms of posterior tibial tendon dysfunction include:

  • Gradually developing pain on the outer side of the ankle or foot.
  • Loss of the arch and the development of a flatfoot.
  • Pain and swelling on the inside of the ankle.
  • Tenderness over the midfoot, especially when under stress during activity.
  • Weakness and an inability to stand on the toes.

When the foot is acutely painful, rest, ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil are recommended, and a compressive dressing may be applied.

Cast immobilization holding the foot in slight inversion and plantar flexion for 4-6 weeks may be started. After the acute period, a custom orthosis or brace may be fitted. An air stirrup brace or lace-up ankle support is beneficial during the rehabilitation period. Your foot doctor may prescribe special shoes with external additions to the medial side(.i.e., medial heel wedge), to support the foot and prevent arch collapse.. The doctor may prescribe a custom foot orthotic based on the flexibility of the foot. The orthosis may be constructed of leather or plastic. Medial posting may be placed along the hindfoot. A UCBL orthosis with a rearfoot varus post is sometimes used for posterior tibial dysfunction as the foot begins to change shape and flatten. If the foot becomes both flat and rigid, an Ankle-foot orthosis may become necessary.

If the tendon has ruptured, surgery may be required to either repair the ruptured tendon - or to replace it with a tendon graft. Most tears will not simply be repairable, unless they only recently occurred. Usually, another tendon in the foot, such as the tendon that flexes the four lesser toes (bends them down) is used as a tendon graft to replace the function of the posterior tibial tendon.

Finally, in cases which have been neglected, and a fixed flatfoot deformity is present, a fusion (or arthrodesis) of the foot may be required. A fusion is an operation where a joint between two bones is removed and the two bones on either side of the joint are allowed to grow together - or fuse. This type of operation is used to stop pain from joints that are worn out and can be used to realign the bones when the normal mechanisms for maintaining normal alignment are deficient - such as when the tendons and ligaments no longer work properly. Usually, several joints must be fused to control the flatfoot deformity occurring after posterior tibial tendon rupture.

Following surgery, you will most likely be placed in some sort of brace or cast if the tendon has been repaired or grafted. You will probably be in a cast for 6-8 weeks if a fusion has been performed.

Left untreated, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction could lead to arthritis in the hindfoot. Pain could increases and spread to the outer side of the ankle.