The feet’s ability to cope with the repetitive loads placed on it throughout our lives is nothing short of miraculous. One of the main structures responsible for this are the plantar soft tissues, however they do appear to lose their effectiveness in both Diabetes and as we age leading to ulceration and other foot complaints. Contoured heel cups, such as though found in insoles, have been shown to improve the ability of these soft tissues to do their job and possibly reduce foot pain associated with their loss.
Foot problems are common in elderly people and stiffened plantar soft tissues may lead to ulceration in people with Diabetes Mellitus. It is unclear how the biomechanical properties of plantar soft tissues change with advancing age. Therefore, this study examined the age-related differences in the biomechanical properties of plantar soft tissues.
The loss of compliance in the plantar soft tissues may be one of the factors responsible for the higher incidence of foot problems in elderly individuals
This research is not alone in making a link between the loss of our natural ‘foot padding’ and foot complaints. These soft tissues that make up the interface between the ground and the bones of the foot are obvious under our heels (the heel pad), but less so under the rest of the foot. However the padding under the ball of the foot is essential to every step we take as it protects a groups of tendons, bones and ligaments that enable us to walk effectively. As the research states a loss in the compliance or ‘sponginess’ of the structures as we get older, can result in pain and discomfort to the whole of the foot.
They also make the link between these changes and diabetic ulceration. A second group of researchers, Chatzistergoset al (2014),found that ‘People with type-2 diabetes and high levels of triglycerides and FBS are more likely to have stiffer heel-pads. Increased stiffness could limit the tissues’ ability to evenly distribute loads making them more vulnerable to trauma and ulceration.’
So what can we practically do about this? The research by Telfer et al (2013) showed that a contoured heel cup (E.g. an insole) was capable of decreasing the compression of the heel pads and increasing its compliance. This cupping of the heels may stop the heel pad moving and consequently improve its structure and function.
The Effect of Aging on the Biomechanical Properties of Plantar Soft Tissues. Kwan et al (2010) Clinical Biomechanics.(Bristol, Avon) May 8