Newly developed 3D printed insoles could be the answer to preventing foot ulcers among people with diabetes, researchers have said.

A team from Staffordshire University has carried out a study on the product and found tailoring the stiffness of the cushioning insole, could significantly improve the foot health of the wearer by reducing pressure on the feet.

They found much of the insole’s success was linked to tailoring it around the person’s weight.

Lead study author Dr Chatzistergos, Associate Professor at the university’s Centre for Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Technologies (CBRT), said: “The optimum stiffness is clearly related to the patient’s body mass index (BMI). This study adds to our earlier findings and concludes that stiffer materials are needed for people with a higher BMI.”

These findings could be hugely significant as it is thought that around 2-2.5 per cent of the diabetes population has a foot ulcer in any given week. If left untreated they can sometimes lead to limb amputation.

The recently published research is thought to be the first trial which has looked at optimising cushioning for diabetic footwear as part of clinical practice.

A total of 15 people with diabetic foot disease were recruited for the study. They were asked to walk around in the adapted footwear, fitted with the bespoke 3D printed insoles.

They were specifically customised to fit across the surface of the foot bed and the material’s stiffness varied from very soft to very stiff.

Because of the positive study outcomes, the team are now focussing their efforts on trying to find a way to enable healthcare professionals to identify the individual cushioning needs of each person with diabetes thats they see.

Professor Nachi Chockalingam, Director of CBRT and co-inventor of the technology, said: “With numerous patients losing their limbs to diabetic foot disease, our research will help clinicians effectively manage this disease.”

The research findings have been published in the Gait and Posture journal.

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