Two recent studies (1.), (2.) question the merits of supporting the arch of a skier’s foot and especially any claims made that supporting the arch in neutral is the strongest position for skiing.
It is well established in the scientific literature that the plantar aponeurosis (aka plantar fascia or PA) is one of the major arch-supporting structures of the human foot. A positive correlation between Achilles tendon loading (ATF) and plantar fascia tension (PAF) has been reported. A study (3.) found that plantar aponeurosis forces (PAF) gradually increased during mid stance and peaked in late mid stance. The study found a good correlation between plantar aponeurosis tension (APF) and Achilles tendon force (ATF). The study concluded:
The plantar aponeurosis transmits large forces between the hindfoot and forefoot during the (mid) stance phase of gait. The varying pattern of plantar aponeurosis force (PAF) and its relationship to Achilles tendon force (ATF) demonstrates the importance of analyzing the function of the plantar aponeurosis throughout the stance phase of the gait cycle rather than in a static standing position. – (my emphasis added in bold)
I discussed this in my post TRANSITIONING TO A HIGHER LEVEL OF SKIER PERFORMANCE.
The graphic below from Kevin Kirby’s Foot and Lower Extremity Biomechanics II: Precision Intricast Newsletters, 1997-2002 illustrates how the position of COM in relation to the foot tensions the GS (gastroc-Soleus) compressing the arch which tensions the plantar aponeurosis ligament. I have added arrows to indicate PA strain Force F and Shear Force as well as Arch Compression Force.
The graphic below also from Kevin Kirby’s Foot and Lower Extremity Biomechanics II: Precision Intricast Newsletters, 1997-2002 illustrates how the anterior (forward) advance of CoM in relation to the foot decreases rear foot loading (GRF-RF) and increases fore foot loading (GRF-FF). I have added a red dashed vertical line and a red triangle to show the approximate location of what would be what I term the tipping or pivot point where the foot would rock rearward and forward with a corresponding shift in CoM.
The two recent studies I referred to (1.), (2.) that question the merits of supporting the arch of a skier’s foot were actually done with subjects walking and running on flat and inclined surfaces. But the effect on arch compression is applicable to the effect of arch supports used in ski boots.
New Balance Minimus road MR00 shoes were provided to all participants to wear for testing (approx. weight 180 grams, zero heel-toe drop, no medial arch support and a uniform EVA midsole). Pockets filled with lead weights were affixed to the laces of both shoes in order to standardize foot weight across all shoe and insole conditions. The minimal shoe was chosen as a control condition in order to standardize non-insole effects as much as possible.
Two separate custom insoles were designed for each participant and fabricated by orthotic laboratory. The first insole was designed to restrict arch compression near-maximally compared to that during shod (barefoot) running (Full Arch Insole; FAI). The second insole was designed to restrict compression by approximately 50% during stance (Half Arch Insole; HAI). TO qualify for the study participants could not wear orthotics on a regular basis.
The study found:
The insert restricted maximum arch compression by approximately 70% when compared to unrestricted shod running and consequentially resulted in lower strain values throughout the entire stance phase. It should be noted that the PLF length only surpasses the estimated resting length between ~25%-80% of the stance phase in the insert condition (Fig 3). The negative strain values should be regarded as a slack PLF length, not as the PLF shortening beyond the resting length.
The graphic below from the paper The Foot’s Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion shows the maximum arch compression of subjects shod barefoot (Shoe-only), with the Half Insole that restricted arch compression to 50% of the maximum amount and with the Full Insole that maximally restricted arch compression. The Full Insole is typical of insoles used to support the arch of a skiers’ foot.
In a personal communication with Sarah Stearne she advised me that the study didn’t measure muscle EMG activation with and without the insole but they did know that the ankle performed less positive (-8%) and negative (-10%) mechanical work when the insole was worn and that the ankle peak dorsiflexion moment was reduced (-7%). Based on the ankle moment and Achilles tendon moment arm data they calculated that there was ~6% less force in the Achilles tendon when the insole was worn.
Whilst several studies have acknowledged the elastic energy storage potential of the PLF, this ligament is primarily regarded for its role in providing integrity to the bony arch structure, and in supplying the rigidity required for the foot to function as a lever during propulsion (or skiing, my comment)
This study confirms what I experienced in 1973 after I had full support custom orthotics made by a well known sports podiatrist. The orthotics felt comfortable standing on them and even walking. I experienced some discomfort when attempting to run with the orthotics in my jogging shoes. But when I tried skiing with them in my ski boots I felt as if my foot were floating on the top of the orthotic with little or no sensation of any force under my first MPJ.
Based on the results of two cited studies I believe there is no basis to assume that supporting the arch of a skier’s feet will have positive benefits or is without adverse consequences without first conducting comparative studies using standardized controlls (no insole, flat boot board) and established scientific protocols.
- The Foot’s Arch and the Energetics of Human Locomotion – Sarah M. Stearne1, Kirsty A. McDonald1, Jacqueline A. Alderson1, Ian North2, Charles E. Oxnard3 & Jonas Rubenson1,4 – (January 19, 2016)
- The Role of Arch Compression and Metatarsophalangeal Joint Dynamics in Modulating Plantar Fascia Strain in Running – Kirsty A. McDonald1, Sarah M. Stearne1, Jacqueline A. Alderson1, Ian North2, Neville J. Pires1, Jonas Rubenson1,3* – (April 7, 2016)
- Dynamic loading of the plantar aponeurosis in walking – Erdemir A, Hamel AJ, Fauth AR, Piazza SJ, Sharkey NA