Ann Monté, researcher at CMST and Fien Burg, research manager at RSscan, tell us more about this development.
Preventing injuries in sportspeople
The way we walk (or run) is very individual. This can be seen from a person’s running style, for instance, but you also need to be able to see the sole of the foot from below. If you can, you’ll see that every person’s pressure profile is different.
Walking or running incorrectly can lead ultimately to issues such as back and hip problems. And if you are ‘extreme’ in the way you walk, run or jump – the way athletes do – it can even result in serious and long-lasting injuries.
Fortunately, these problems can often be solved by wearing the right shoes or having the correct soles. Today, there are systems on the market – sensor plates – of approximately 0.5 by 2 meters. The sole of your foot is measured when you run or walk over these plates. Then, based on these measurements, you can make the right selection from the wide range of the shoes and soles available on the market. The Belgian company RS Print – a sister company of RSscan – even takes things a step further (no pun intended!): based on the measurements, a 3D printer is able to produce a personalized sole. And Fitstation – a joint initiative between RSscan and HP – uses the pressure readings and a 3D scan of your foot to produce a shoe customized just for you.
Today, sensor plates are used to help people such as athletes to select the right shoes and soles for them, based on the pressure profile measured while walking or running.
Preventing amputations in diabetics
Far and away the largest market for sensor plates is the diabetes market. In Belgium alone there are some 600,000 people who have diabetes, of whom around 15%, over time, will develop injuries to the soles of their feet, including in places that are subject to high forces of pressure. In 1 in 15 cases, these injuries can lead to the amputation of the foot and sometimes the lower leg as well.
But with early detection and treatment, around 80% of amputations can be avoided.
The peak pressure value and impulse (pressure over time) are important predictive parameters that may provide an indication connected to the risk of ulceration. Today, these parameters can be measured using sensor plates that the patient walks across. However, sensor soles in the shoe should enable far more accurate readings to be taken, plus they can also be used in combination with a corrective sole or shoe to check whether the problem has been remedied in this way.
From sensor plate to sensor sole
A sensor plate makes it possible to measure the pressure profile between the plate and the foot (or shoe, if the person is wearing shoes). Typically, these readings will be taken at the doctor or in a store such as a runners’ lab or other location where the sensor plate is available. Sensor soles – which can just be inserted into someone’s shoe – offer many new possibilities compared with sensor plates. In particular, sensor soles enable readings to be taken inside the shoe rather than underneath it. That way, one can obtain a very clear picture of the exact effect the shoe (and the corrective sole) is having on the foot movement. Also, with a sensor sole, you can track a person’s movement pattern over a longer period of time – days or weeks.
The Belgian company RSscan had been playing around with this idea for some time. Then, when the EU InForMed project was launched, RSscan saw it as the ideal opportunity to get to work with researchers from CMST/imec and Holst Centre on the topic.