Disorders that impair sensory perception can cause serious injury. It has been proposed that many running-related injuries may result from wearing athletic footwear which induces changes in the perception of loads encountered during running. To test this hypothesis a psychophysical investigation was performed in which subjects were required to give numerical estimates of the perceived magnitude of a load experienced on the plantar surface. The loads were applied to the flexed knee, and the foot was supported on one of three different weight-bearing surfaces.
The results indicated that there was a linear relation between the size of applied load and the perceived magnitude of this load on all three surfaces tested. Subjects consistently underestimated the magnitude of the loads applied, with the greatest underestimation occurring when the foot was either on a rigid plastic surface or wearing athletic footwear. The exponents of power functions fitted to these data were all close to one which is similar to the values obtained in studies of the perception of skin indentation on the palmar surface.
The results from this study support the hypothesis that athletic footwear can attenuate the perceived magnitude of loads experienced on the plantar surface. This change in the perception of load may be a factor in running-related injuries for which the term pseudo-neuropathic is proposed, since there are no pre-existing neurological deficits.
This experiment alerts one to the need for product safety standards, particularly for athletic footwear, so that the public can be protected from the dangers that may be inherent in their design, since these devices are promoted for use in high-impact environments.
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