The majority of plantar ulcers in the diabetic population occur in the forefoot. Peripheral neuropathy has been related to the occurrence of ulcers. Long-term diabetes results in the joints becoming passively stiffer. This static stiffness may translate to dynamic joint stiffness in the lower extremities during gait. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to demonstrate differences in ankle and knee joint stiffness between diabetic individuals with and without peripheral neuropathy during gait. Diabetic subjects with and without peripheral neuropathy were compared. Subjects were monitored during normal walking with three-dimensional motion analysis and a force plate. Neuropathic subjects had higher ankle stiffness (0.236 N·m/ deg) during 65 to 80% of stance when compared with non-neuropathic subjects (−0.113 N·m/deg). Neuropathic subjects showed a different pattern in ankle stiffness compared with non-neuropathic subjects. Neuropathic subjects demonstrated a consistent level of ankle stiffness, whereas non-neuropathic subjects showed varying levels of stiffness. Neuropathic subjects demonstrated lower knee stiffness (0.015 N·m/deg) compared with non-neuropathic subjects (0.075 N·m/deg) during 50 to 65% of stance. The differences in patterns of ankle and knee joint stiffness between groups appear to be related to changes in timing of peak ankle dorsiflexion during stance, with the neuropathic group reaching peak dorsiflexion later than the non-neuropathic subjects. This may partially relate to the changes in plantar pressures beneath the metatarsal heads present in individuals with neuropathy.
Williams and Brunt are with the Department of Physical Therapy, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC, and Tanenberg is with the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity Center, Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC.