May 27, 2024

Reshaping Our Understanding of Human Biomechanics Study Emphasizes Foot’s Variability and Movement Capability

A research collaboration between Griffith University and The University of Queensland has revolutionized our knowledge of human biomechanics by examining the relationship between foot form and function.

Traditionally, the foot has been perceived as a stiff structure that does not move much during walking and running. However, utilizing advanced measurement and analysis techniques, the researchers challenged this notion and explored the foot’s complex morphology, variability, and movement capability.

The team, consisting of Dr. Robert Schuster and Associate Professor Luke Kelly from Griffith University, and Professor Andrew Cresswell from The University of Queensland’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, collected data from 100 healthy participants aged 18-40. Their approach deviated from the standard foot measures commonly used in research, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of foot mechanics.

Contrary to previous assumptions, the researchers discovered that the foot is not a rigid structure but comprises 33 joints, making it a highly intricate system. They developed a shape-function model (SFM) based on patterns identified in the shape and function data, without any pre-existing assumptions about their relationship.

Remarkably, the SFM accurately predicted the movement and forces experienced by the joints of a novel foot solely based on its shape. This breakthrough provided valuable insights into shape variability and the complex mechanics of foot joints during motion.

While there was some correlation between foot type and function, such as between a high arch and a more compliant foot, these relationships only accounted for a small percentage of foot behavior.

Dr. Schuster explained that people often draw conclusions about an individual’s abilities or injury vulnerability based on the appearance of their foot or hand. For example, marathon athletes are typically perceived to have a short, light build with thin limbs, while sprinters are associated with a more muscular physique. Similarly, it has been believed that a flat foot performs differently from a foot with a high arch. However, the researchers found that the foot is one of the most variable structures in the human body, and its appearance does not necessarily dictate its function.

The study involved 3D scanning and walking and running trials to assess the foot’s longitudinal and transverse arches, relative proportions, and toe shape. The results indicated that these factors influence ankle and foot joint mechanics but do not solely determine movement potential due to the foot’s multiple degrees of freedom.

Dr. Schuster emphasized that despite the variations in appearance, feet can still perform the same function. He highlighted the presence of high-performing athletes with flat feet, debunking the misconception that a flat foot limits one’s capabilities.

This research has significant implications for understanding human biomechanics and has the potential to inform the development of personalized interventions and treatments for foot-related conditions. By expanding our knowledge of foot variability and movement capability, we can enhance our understanding of how to optimize foot function for different individuals.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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