Background: The diabetic foot often undergoes abnormal plantar pressures, changing in walking strategy, ulcerative processes. The present study focuses on the effects that diabetes-induced alterations of Achilles tendon, plantar fascia and first metatarso-phalangeal joint-both anatomical and functional-may have on foot loading.
Methods: Sixty-one diabetic patients, with or without neuropathy, and 21 healthy volunteers were recruited. Thickness of Achilles tendon and plantar fascia was measured by ultrasound. Flexion-extension of the first metatarso-phalangeal joint was measured passively. Main biomechanic parameters of foot-floor interaction during gait were acquired and related to the above measurements.
Findings: Plantar fascia and Achilles tendon were significantly (P<0.05) thicker in diabetics than in controls; mean values (SD) for controls, diabetics without and with neuropathy were 2.0 mm (0.5), 2.9 mm (1.2) and 3.0 mm (0.8) for plantar fascia, respectively, and 4.0 mm (0.5), 4.6 mm (1.0) and 4.9 mm (1.7) for Achilles tendon, respectively. Flexion-extension of the first metatarso-phalangeal joint was significantly (P<0.05) smaller in diabetics than in controls; mean values (SD) for controls, diabetics without and with neuropathy were 100.0 degrees (10.0), 54.0 degrees (29.4) and 54.9 degrees (17.2), respectively. The increase in the vertical force under the metatarsals was strongly related (R=0.83, explained variance=70.1%) to the changes in the three above parameters.
Interpretation: Thickening of plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in diabetics, more evident in the presence of neuropathy, concurs to develop a rigid foot, which poorly absorbs shock during landing (performs the physiological impact force absorption during landing). More generally, an overall alteration of the foot-ankle complex motion likely occurs throughout the whole gait cycle, which partly explains the abnormal loading under the forefoot.