Modern human feet are considered unique among primates in their capacity to transmit propulsive forces and re-use elastic energy. Considered central to both these capabilities are their arched configuration and the plantar aponeurosis (PA). However, recent evidence has shown that their interactions are not as simple as proposed by the theoretical and mechanical models that established their significance. Using three-dimensional foot scans and statistical shape and deformation modelling, we show that the shape of the longitudinal and transverse arches varies widely among the healthy adult population, and that the former is subject to load-induced arch flattening, whereas the latter is not. However, longitudinal arch shape and flattening are only one of the various foot shape-deformation relationships. PA stiffness was also found to vary widely. Yet only a small amount of this variability (approx. 10-18%) was explained by variations in foot shape, deformation and their combination. These findings add to the mounting evidence showing that foot mechanics are complex and cannot be accurately represented by simple models. Especially the interactions between longitudinal arch and PA appear to be far less constrained than originally proposed, most likely due to the many degrees of freedom provided by the structural complexity of our feet.
Keywords: foot biomechanics; longitudinal arch; plantar fascia; statistical shape modelling; three-dimensional scanning; transverse arch.