Diabetes is, in essence, the inability of the body to properly dispose of excess glucose in the bloodstream. If a patient is unable to sustain their blood glucose levels at a normal level, the body will start to get rid of the excess glucose by forming it with the collagen cells in soft tissue. This causes collagen fibers to harden over time. When combined with diabetic neuropathy, which is the damage to the nerves, patients lose the sense of touch in certain parts of the body, especially their feet. This alters the patient’s walking, which causes pressure concentrations.
Hardened tissue and change in the structure of the foot result in nerve endings to die and not be capable of feeding the cells with nutrients. When cells start dying, ulcers start forming and it is only a matter of time before the infection spreads throughout the foot, and potentially into the blood causing sepsis. Patient-specific orthotics are engineered to achieve proper alignment for the bone structure and relieve pressure concentrations that cause ulcer formations. Although orthotics are used widely to treat diabetic patients, non-diabetic individuals have the potential to benefit from custom designed foot orthotics.
Orthotics are devices used to help achieve better alignment throughout the human body. Much like braces and casts that are prescribed to align patients’ bones, foot orthotics are prescribed to patients who might suffer misalignment in their foot bone structure. The human body is supported from the ground up, as feet distribute the weight of the body into the ground. Any problem or misalignment in the foot structure can influence the weight distribution negatively, resulting in stress concentrations and pain at the bottom of the foot. Foot orthotics play the role to distribute the stress concentrations and give support to the patients’ foot as they go through their daily routine. In recent years many companies have tried to create a way to generalize foot orthotics to fit the general population. This is a completely unacceptable solution to find a way to relieve people of their foot pain.
In the Heart Valve Performance Laboratory, we are engineering a solution to manufacture custom foot orthotics using Finite Element Analysis. The goal here is to implement specific conditions into the system such as the weight distribution of a patient, and through iterative analysis, develop the best viable design for that specific condition. Finally, we want to utilize the novel Hydro-gel biomaterial synthesized in the Heart Valve Performance Laboratory for the creation of the custom orthotics.