Toe flexion during terminal stance has an active component contributed by the muscles that flex the toes and a passive component contributed by the plantar fascia. This study examined the relative importance of these two mechanisms in maintaining proper force sharing between the toes and forefoot. Thirteen nonpaired cadaver feet were tested in a dynamic gait stimulator, which reproduces the kinematics and kinetics of the foot, ankle, and tibia by applying physiologic muscle forces and proximal tibial kinematics. The distribution of plantar pressure beneath the foot was measured at the terminal stance phase of gait under normal extrinsic muscle activity with an intact plantar fascia, in the absence of extrinsic toe flexor activity (no flexor hallucis longus or flexor digitorum longus) with an intact plantar fascia, and after complete fasciotomy with normal extrinsic toe flexor activity. In the absence of the toe flexor muscles or after plantar fasciotomy the contact area decreased beneath the toes and contact force shifted from the toes to the metatarsal heads. In addition, pressure distribution beneath the metatarsal heads after fasciotomy shifted laterally and posteriorly, indicating that the plantar fascia enables more efficient force transmission through the high gear axis during locomotion. The plantar fascia enables the toes to provide plantar-directed force and bear high loads during push-off.
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