Ultrasound (US) imaging offers significant potential in diagnosis of plantar fascia (PF) injury and monitoring treatment. In particular US imaging has been shown to be reliable in foot and ankle assessment and offers a real-time effective imaging technique that is able to reliably confirm structural changes, such as thickening, and identify changes in the internal echo structure associated with diseased or damaged tissue. Despite the advantages of US imaging, images are difficult to interpret during medical assessment. This is partly due to the size and position of the PF in relation to the adjacent tissues. It is therefore a requirement to devise a system that allows better and easier interpretation of PF ultrasound images during diagnosis. This study proposes an automatic segmentation approach which for the first time extracts ultrasound data to estimate size across three sections of the PF (rearfoot, midfoot and forefoot). This segmentation method uses artificial neural network module (ANN) in order to classify small overlapping patches as belonging or not-belonging to the region of interest (ROI) of the PF tissue. Features ranking and selection techniques were performed as a post-processing step for features extraction to reduce the dimension and number of the extracted features. The trained ANN classifies the image overlapping patches into PF and non-PF tissue, and then it is used to segment the desired PF region. The PF thickness was calculated using two different methods: distance transformation and area-length calculation algorithms. This new approach is capable of accurately segmenting the PF region, differentiating it from surrounding tissues and estimating its thickness.
Keywords: Classification; Feature extraction; Plantar fascia (PF); Radial Basic Function Neural Network (RBF-NN); Segmentation; Speckle noise; Ultrasound (US).
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