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Strains in the Metatarsals During the Stance Phase of Gait: Implications for Stress Fractures*


Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume: September 1999 - Volume 81 - Issue 9 - p 1236–44

Background: Stress fractures of the metatarsals are common overuse injuries in athletes and military cadets, yet their etiology remains unclear. In vitro, high bone strains have been associated with the accumulation of microdamage and shortened fatigue life. It is therefore postulated that stress fractures in vivo are caused by elevated strains, which lead to the accumulation of excessive damage. We used a cadaver model to test the hypothesis that strains in the metatarsals increase with simulated muscle fatigue and plantar fasciotomy. Methods: A dynamic gait simulator was used to load fifteen cadaveric feet during the entire stance phase of gait under conditions simulating normal walking, walking with fatigue of the auxiliary plantar flexors, and walking after a plantar fasciotomy. Strains were measured, with use of axial strain-gauges, in the dorsal, medial, and lateral aspects of the diaphysis of the second and fifth metatarsals as well as in the proximal metaphysis of the fifth metatarsal. Results: When the feet were loaded under normal walking conditions, the mean peak strain in the dorsal aspect of the second metatarsal (-1897 microstrain) was more than twice that in the medial aspect of the fifth metatarsal (-908 microstrain). Simulated muscle fatigue significantly increased peak strain in the second metatarsal and decreased peak strain in the fifth metatarsal. Release of the plantar fascia caused significant alterations in strain in both metatarsal bones; these alterations were greater than those caused by muscle fatigue. After the plantar fasciotomy, the mean peak strain in the dorsal aspect of the second metatarsal (-3797 microstrain) was twice that under normal walking conditions. Conclusions: The peak axial strain in the diaphysis of the second metatarsal is significantly (p < 0.0001) higher than that in the diaphysis of the fifth metatarsal during normal gait. The plantar fascia and the auxiliary plantar flexors are important for maintaining normal strains in the metatarsals during gait. Clinical Relevance: Higher strains in the diaphysis of the second metatarsal may explain why stress fractures are more common in this region than they are in the fifth metatarsal. Elevated strains in the metatarsals due to muscle fatigue or loss of function of the plantar fascia may contribute to the development of metatarsalgia and stress fractures.

†Orthopaedic Research Laboratories, University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, 4635 Second Avenue, Sacramento, California 95817.

‡Center for Locomotion Studies, The Pennsylvania State University, 29 Recreation Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802. E-mail address:

Copyright 1999 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
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