Differences in foot kinematics between young and older adults during walking

Our understanding of age-related changes to foot function during walking has mainly been based on plantar pressure measurements, with little information on differences in foot kinematics between young and older adults. The purpose of this study was to investigate the differences in foot kinematics between young and older adults during walking using a multi-segment foot model. Joint kinematics of the foot and ankle for 20 young (mean age 23.2 years, standard deviation (SD) 3.0) and 20 older adults (mean age 73.2 years, SD 5.1) were quantified during walking with a 12 camera Vicon motion analysis system using a five segment kinematic model. Differences in kinematics were compared between older adults and young adults (preferred and slow walking speeds) using Student’s t-tests or if indicated, Mann-Whitney U tests. Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) for the differences were also computed. The older adults had a less plantarflexed calcaneus at toe-off (-9.6° vs. -16.1°, d = 1.0, p = <0.001), a smaller sagittal plane range of motion (ROM) of the midfoot (11.9° vs. 14.8°, d = 1.3, p = <0.001) and smaller coronal plane ROM of the metatarsus (3.2° vs. 4.3°, d = 1.1, p = 0.006) compared to the young adults. Walking speed did not influence these differences, as they remained present when groups walked at comparable speeds. The findings of this study indicate that independent of walking speed, older adults exhibit significant differences in foot kinematics compared to younger adults, characterised by less propulsion and reduced mobility of multiple foot segments.

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