Patients with isolated ankle osteoarthritis (OA) often demonstrate disturbed ankle biomechanics during walking. Clinicians often believe that this triggers the distal foot joints to compensate these altered ankle biomechanics and that these foot joints are consequently subjected to degenerative joint diseases due to overuse.
Do patients with isolated ankle OA differ from those without ankle OA in terms of (1) ankle and foot joint kinematics and (2) ankle and foot joint kinetics as measured using three-dimensional (3-D) gait analysis? (3) Do these patients demonstrate compensatory strategies in their Chopart, Lisfranc, or first metatarsophalangeal joints in terms of increased joint kinematic and kinetic outputs?
Between 2015 and 2018, we treated 110 patients with unilateral ankle OA, and invited all of them to participate in the gait analysis laboratory. Of those, 47% (52) of patients did so, and of these, 16 patients met the inclusion criteria for this study, which were (1) diagnosis of unilateral ankle OA; (2) absence of radiographical signs of OA in the contralateral foot or lower limbs; (3) ability to walk at least 100 m without rest; and (4) being older than 18 years of age. A control group (n = 25) was recruited through intranet advertisements at the University Hospitals of Leuven. Participants were included if their age matched the age-range of the patient group and if they had no history of OA in any of the lower limb joints. Patients were slightly older (55.9 ± 11.2 years), with a slightly higher BMI (28 ± 6 kg/m) than the control group participants (47.2 ± 4.4 years; p = 0.01 and 25 ± 3 kg/m; p = 0.05). All participants underwent a 3-D gait analysis, during which a multisegment foot model was used to quantify the kinematic parameters (joint angles and ROM) and the kinetic parameters (rotational forces or moments), as well as power generation and absorption in the ankle, Chopart, Lisfranc, and first metatarsophalangeal joints during the stance phase of walking. Peak values were the maximum and minimum values of waveforms and the latter were time-normalized to 100% of the stance phase.
Regarding joint kinematics, patients demonstrated a sagittal plane ankle, Chopart, Lisfranc, and first metatarsophalangeal joint ROM of 11.4 ± 3.1°, 9.7 ± 2.7°, 8.6 ± 2.3° and 34.6 ± 8.1°, respectively, compared with 18.0 ± 2.7° (p < 0.001), 13.9 ± 3.2° (p < 0.001), 7.1 ± 2.0° (p = 0.046) and 38.1 ± 6.5° (p = 0.15), respectively, in the control group during the stance phase of walking. With regard to joint kinetics in the patient group, we found a mean decrease of 1.3 W/kg (95% CI confidence interval 1.0 to 1.6) (control group mean: 2.4 ± 0.4 W/kg, patient group mean: 1.1 ± 0.5 W/kg) and 0.8 W/kg (95% CI 0.4 to 1.0) (control group mean: 1.5 ± 0.3 W/kg, patient group mean: 0.7 ± 0.5 W/kg) of ankle (p < 0.001) and Chopart (p < 0.001) joint peak power generation. No changes in kinetic parameters (joint moment or power) were observed in any of the distal foot joints.
The findings of this study showed a decrease in ankle kinematics and kinetics of patients with isolated ankle OA during walking, whereas no change in kinematic or kinetic functions were observed in the distal foot joints, demonstrating that these do not compensate for the mechanical dysfunction of the ankle.
The current findings suggest that future experimental laboratory studies should look at whether tibiotalar joint fusion or total ankle replacement influence the biomechanical functioning of these distal joints.