3D printed insoles could improve foot health for diabetes patients

A team of scientists are developing a new type of customized 3D printed insole that can benefit diabetes patients suffering from foot ulcers. The insoles, developed at Staffordshire University in the UK, integrate optimized cushioning stiffness to improve foot health.

Foot ulcers are an unfortunate but common symptom of poorly controlled diabetes. The painful sores are the result of skin tissue breaking down on the surface of the foot. If infected or untreated foot ulcers can even lead to amputations. Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of foot ulcers for diabetes patients, including good foot care.

Diabetes 3D printed insoles

The Staffordshire University team believes that special 3D printed insoles it is developing could be instrumental in improving the foot health of diabetes patients. The team’s study, recently published in the journal Gait and Posture, is the first quantitative evidence in support of optimized cushioning for diabetic footwear as part of standard clinical practice. That is, by offering patient’s tailored cushioning stiffness in footwear, foot pressure that can lead to ulcers can be minimized.

To support their work, the research team conducted a study on 15 patients with diabetic foot disease in Malta. The 15 participants were asked to walk in footwear equipped with made-to-measure 3D printed insoles. The insoles, made by the Centre for Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Technologies (CBRT) at the university, were tailored across the surface of the foot bed, with stiffnesses ranging from very soft to very stiff.

“The optimum stiffness is clearly related to the patient’s body mass index (BMI),” said Dr. Chatzistergos, Associate Professor at CBRT and the lead author of the study. “This study adds to our earlier findings and concludes that stiffer materials are needed for people with a higher BMI.”

After analyzing the results of this study, the research team is now developing a way to enable professionals to identify the optimal cushioning stiffness for a particular patient. Professor Nachi Chockalingam, Director of CBRT and co-inventor of the technology, said: “With numerous patients losing their limbs to diabetic foot disease, our research will help clinicians effectively manage this disease.”

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