No change in foot soft tissue morphology and skin sensitivity after three months of using foot orthoses that alter plantar pressure

Joanna Reeves*, Richard Jones, Anmin Liu, Leah Bent, Ana Martinez-Santos, Christopher Nester

*Corresponding author for this work

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Altering plantar load using foot orthoses (FOs) may alter the mechanical work required of internal structures and change the size of muscle and connective tissues. Skin sensitivity might also change as a result of altering mechanoreceptor stimulation. This study investigated the effects of FOs on foot soft tissue morphology and skin sensitivity over three months of use. Forty-one healthy participants wore prefabricated FOs (n = 23) or no insert (n = 18) for three months. The FOs were prescribed specific to each participant, using criteria of a change in peak pressure of 8% in the medial arch (pressure increase) and medial heel (pressure decrease). Ultrasound images were recorded pre- and post-FOs use to derive cross-sectional area and thickness of: abductor hallucis, flexor hallucis brevis, flexor digitorum brevis and the Achilles tendon at the insertion and mid-portion. Plantar fascia thickness was measured at the insertion and midfoot. The minimal detectable difference was established in piloting (n = 7). Skin sensitivity was measured with monofilaments at the dorsum (between the hallux and second toe), medial and lateral heel, medial and lateral arch and the 1st metatarsal head. The FOs increased peak pressure by 15% in the medial arch and reduced it by 21% in the medial heel. None of the changes in soft tissue measurements was greater than the minimal detectable difference and there were no effects of group and time. Skin sensitivity decreased over time at the 1st metatarsal head for both groups, but there was no group effect. Using FOs over three months did not change the foot tissues nor skin sensitivity. This study challenges the notion that FOs make muscles smaller.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalFootwear Science
Early online date18 Aug 2021
Publication statusEarly online - 18 Aug 2021


  • foot orthoses
  • muscle morphology
  • plantar pressure
  • skin sensitivity
  • ultrasound


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