Finite element analysis of plantar fascia under stretch-the relative contribution of windlass mechanism and Achilles tendon force

Stretching plays an important role in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. Information on the internal stresses/strains of the plantar fascia under stretch is useful in enhancing knowledge on the stretch mechanisms. Although direct measurement can monitor plantar fascia changes, it is invasive and gathers only localized information. The purpose of this paper was to construct a three-dimensional finite element model of the foot to calculate the stretch effects on plantar fascia and monitor its stress/strain distributions and concentrations. A three-dimensional foot model was developed and contained 26 bones with joint cartilages, 67 ligaments and a fan-like solid plantar fascia modeling. All tissues were idealized as linear elastic, homogeneous and isotropic whilst the plantar fascia was assigned as hyperelastic to represent its nonlinearity. The plantar fascia was monitored for its biomechanical responses under various stretch combinations: three toe dorsiflexion angles (windlass effect: 15 degrees , 30 degrees and 45 degrees ) and five Achilles tendon forces (100, 200, 300, 400 and 500N). Our results indicated that the plantar fascia strain increased as the dorsiflexion angles increased, and this phenomenon was enhanced by increasing Achilles tendon force. A stress concentration was found near the medial calcaneal tubercle, and the fascia stress was higher underneath the first foot ray and gradually decreased as it moved toward the fifth ray. The current model recreated the position of the foot when stretch is placed on the plantar fascia. The results provided a general insight into the mechanical and biomechanical aspects of the influences of windlass mechanism and Achilles tendon force on plantar fascia stress and strain distribution. These findings might have practical implications onto plantar fascia stretch approaches, and provide guidelines to its surgical release.

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