Finite element modeling of the first ray of the foot: a tool for the design of interventions

Disorders of the first ray of the foot (defined as the hard and soft tissues of the first metatarsal, the sesamoids, and the phalanges of the great toe) are common, and therapeutic interventions to address these problems range from alterations in footwear to orthopedic surgery. Experimental verification of these procedures is often lacking, and thus, a computational modeling approach could provide a means to explore different interventional strategies. A three-dimensional finite element model of the first ray was developed for this purpose. A hexahedral mesh was constructed from magnetic resonance images of the right foot of a male subject. The soft tissue was assumed to be incompressible and hyperelastic, and the bones were modeled as rigid. Contact with friction between the foot and the floor or footwear was defined, and forces were applied to the base of the first metatarsal. Vertical force was extracted from experimental data, and a posterior force of 0.18 times the vertical force was assumed to represent loading at peak forefoot force in the late-stance phase of walking. The orientation of the model and joint configuration at that instant were obtained by minimizing the difference between model predicted and experimentally measured barefoot plantar pressures. The model were then oriented in a series of postures representative of push-off, and forces and joint moments were decreased to zero simultaneously. The pressure distribution underneath the first ray was obtained for each posture to illustrate changes under three case studies representing hallux limitus, surgical arthrodesis of the first ray, and a footwear intervention. Hallux limitus simulations showed that restriction of metatarsophalangeal joint dorsiflexion was directly related to increase and early occurrence of hallux pressures with severe immobility increasing the hallux pressures by as much as 223%. Modeling arthrodesis illustrated elevated hallux pressures when compared to barefoot and was dependent on fixation angles. One degree change in dorsiflexion and valgus fixation angles introduced approximate changes in peak hallux pressure by 95 and 22 kPa, respectively. Footwear simulations using flat insoles showed that using the given set of materials, reductions of at least 18% and 43% under metatarsal head and hallux, respectively, were possible.

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