Three-dimensional quantitative analysis of healthy foot shape: a proof of concept study

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Journal of Foot and Ankle Research, Volume 11, Issue 8, p.1-13 (2018)



Foot morphology has received increasing attention from both biomechanics researches and footwear manufacturers. Usually, the morphology of the foot is quantified by 2D footprints. However, footprint quantification ignores the foot’s vertical dimension and hence, does not allow accurate quantification of complex 3D foot shape.

The shape variation of healthy 3D feet in a population of 31 adult women and 31 adult men who live in Belgium was studied using geometric morphometric methods. The effect of different factors such as sex, age, shoe size, frequency of sport activity, Body Mass Index (BMI), foot asymmetry, and foot loading on foot shape was investigated. Correlation between these factors and foot shape was examined using multivariate linear regression.

The complex nature of a foot’s 3D shape leads to high variability in healthy populations. After normalizing for scale, the major axes of variation in foot morphology are (in order of decreasing variance): arch height, combined ball width and inter-toe distance, global foot width, hallux bone orientation (valgus-varus), foot type (e.g. Egyptian, Greek), and midfoot width. These first six modes of variation capture 92.59% of the total shape variation. Higher BMI results in increased ankle width, Achilles tendon width, heel width and a thicker forefoot along the dorsoplantar axis. Age was found to be associated with heel width, Achilles tendon width, toe height and hallux orientation. A bigger shoe size was found to be associated with a narrow Achilles tendon, a hallux varus, a narrow heel, heel expansion along the posterior direction, and a lower arch compared to smaller shoe size. Sex was found to be associated with differences in ankle width, Achilles tendon width, and heel width. Frequency of sport activity was associated with Achilles tendon width and toe height.

A detailed analysis of the 3D foot shape, allowed by geometric morphometrics, provides insights in foot variations in three dimensions that can not be obtained from 2D footprints. These insights could be applied in various scientific disciplines, including orthotics and shoe design.

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