Purpose: The purposes of this study were (a) to determine lower extremity anthropometric and sensory factors that are related to differences in comfort perception of shoe inserts with varying shape and material and (b) to investigate whether shoe inserts that improve comfort decrease injury frequency in a military population.
Methods: 206 military personnel volunteered for this study. The shoe inserts varied in arch and heel cup shape, hardness, and elasticity in the heel and forefoot regions. A no insert condition was included as the control condition. Measured subject characteristics included foot shape, foot and leg alignment, and tactile and vibration sensitivity of the plantar surface of the foot. Footwear comfort was assessed using a visual analog scale. Injury frequency was evaluated with a questionnaire. The statistical analyses included Student's t-tests for repeated measures, ANOVA (within subjects), MANOVA (within insert combinations), and chi-square tests.
Results: The average comfort ratings for all shoe inserts were significantly higher than the average comfort rating for the control condition. The incidence of stress fractures and pain at different locations was reduced by 1.5-13.4% for the insert compared with the control group. Foot arch height, foot and leg alignment, and foot sensitivity were significantly related to differences in comfort ratings for the hard/soft, the viscous/elastic, and the high arch/low arch insert combinations.
Conclusions: Shoe inserts of different shape and material that are comfortable are able to decrease injury frequency. The results of this study showed that subject specific characteristics influence comfort perception of shoe inserts.