Ulceration, Unsteadiness, and Uncertainty: The Biomechanical Consequences of Diabetes Mellitus

Document Type




Format of Original

8 p.

Publication Date




Source Publication

Journal of Biomechanics

Source ISSN


Original Item ID

doi: 10.1016/0021-9290(93)90077-R


Diabetes mellitus, which results from a failure of the endocrine system to control blood glucose levels within normal limits, affects approximately 15% of the population over the age of 65 in developed countries. Between 20–50% of people with diabetes for more than 10 years will experience symmetrical distal sensory neuropathy resulting in a progressive, distal to proximal, loss of sensation in the lower extremities. The most common consequence is plantar ulceration that too often results in partial or total amputation of the foot. While neuropathy is a major permissive factor, plantar ulcers occur at locations of high plantar pressures. The measurement of pressure using tools developed and refined in the field of biomechanics has been shown to be a valuable asset to the managemetn of the foot at risk for ulceration. In particular, the use of in-shoe measuring techniques has the potential to revolutionize the prescription of therapeutic footwear. Biomechanical techniques have also helped to evaluate other consequences of diabetic neuropathy on the foot such as callus formation, foot deformity, limited joint mobility and bony abnormalities. The reduction of afferent information from the lower extremities implies a lack of active feedback thought to be necessary for the control of human movements such as posture and gait. Our results show that diabetic neuropathy results in a significant increase in sway during standing that is not compensated for by other sensory systems. The study of the sagittal plane movements of the same individuals walking on a treadmill showed little effect on the kinematic control of gait when compared to age matched nonneuropathic control groups. This may indicate the dominance of efferent input over afferent feedback during gait. We believe that the study of the biomechanical consequences of diabetes can act as a model for many other diseases that have yet to come under the scrutiny of a multidisciplinary team.


Journal of Biomechanics, Vol. 26, Supplement 1 (1993): 23-40. DOI: 10.1016/0021-9290(93)90077-R.