Foot anatomy specialization for postural sensation and control

W. G. Wright, Y. P. Ivanenko, V. S. Gurfinkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Anthropological and biomechanical research suggests that the human foot evolved a unique design for propulsion and support. In theory, the arch and toes must play an important role, however, many postural studies tend to focus on the simple hinge action of the ankle joint. To investigate further the role of foot anatomy and sensorimotor control of posture, we quantified the deformation of the foot arch and studied the effects of local perturbations applied to the toes (TOE) or 1st/2nd metatarsals (MT) while standing. In sitting position, loading and lifting a 10-kg weight on the knee respectively lowered and raised the foot arch between 1 and 1.5 mm. Less than 50% of this change could be accounted for by plantar surface skin compression. During quiet standing, the foot arch probe and shin sway revealed a significant correlation, which shows that as the tibia tilts forward, the foot arch flattens and vice versa. During TOE and MT perturbations (a 2- to 6-mm upward shift of an appropriate part of the foot at 2.5 mm/s), electromyogram (EMG) measures of the tibialis anterior and gastrocnemius revealed notable changes, and the root-mean-square (RMS) variability of shin sway increased significantly, these increments being greater in the MT condition. The slow return of RMS to baseline level (>30 s) suggested that a very small perturbation changes the surface reference frame, which then takes time to reestablish. These findings show that rather than serving as a rigid base of support, the foot is compliant, in an active state, and sensitive to minute deformations. In conclusion, the architecture and physiology of the foot appear to contribute to the task of bipedal postural control with great sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1513-1521
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


  • Foot deformation
  • Human posture control
  • Proprioception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)

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