Background: Split transfers of the tibialis anterior and posterior tendons are commonly performed to address hindfoot varus deformities in patients with cerebral palsy, stroke, or brain injury. Poor outcomes from these procedures are often attributed to a failure to tension the transferred tendon properly, but the mechanical effects of this aspect of the procedure have not been quantified, to our knowledge. The purpose of the present study was to use a cadaver model to examine changes in the actions of these muscles that occur when the tensions in the halves of the split tendon are intentionally balanced or unbalanced to varying degrees.
Methods: Tendon excursion was measured in seven cadaveric specimens before and after split tendon transfer with experimentally controlled tensions in the halves of the split tendon. The muscle moment arm, a quantitative indicator of the action of a muscle about a joint axis, was calculated as the derivative of tendon excursion with respect to the subtalar joint angle.
Results: The tibialis anterior had an eversion moment arm with the subtalar joint in a neutral position following surgery, but the tibialis posterior had virtually no action in the neutral position. Following the split transfers with ideally balanced tension, subtalar joint rotations of >5° strongly influenced the moment arm of the tibialis posterior (p < 0.0002), indicating that its action depends on the position of the hindfoot. The moment arm of the tibialis anterior, however, was influenced only by rotations of =20° (p > 0.1741 for each angle pair comparison of <20°). Moment arms were generally insensitive to imbalances in tension between the medial and lateral tendon halves; significant differences in the moment arm (p < 0.05), compared with that in the balanced condition, were seen only when one half was slack or nearly so.
Conclusions: These results suggest that it is possible for a split tendon transfer to be successful over a large range of tensionings. Split transfer of the tibialis posterior tendon produced the desired mechanical outcome in that the tibialis posterior had an eversion moment arm when the foot was inverted and an inversion moment arm when the foot was everted. Split transfer of the tibialis anterior to the cuboid, however, produced a muscle that consistently functioned as an everter regardless of the position of the hindfoot.
Clinical Relevance: Residual varus and overcorrection following a split tendon transfer are often attributed to technical errors in balancing the tension between the medial and lateral tendon halves. The findings of the present study, however, suggest that such surgical failures are likely caused by only the largest of imbalances in tendon tension.