Relieve Health Group

Relieve Health Group

The human body is a marvel of engineering, with each part playing a crucial role in maintaining overall health and function. One such component is the ankle, a complex joint that bears the weight of the body and facilitates movement. Understanding the dynamics of this joint is crucial, especially when it comes to injuries and their subsequent treatment. This article delves into a study that explores the role of fluid dynamics in distributing ankle stresses in both normal and injured states.

In 1976, a significant study by Ramsey and Hamilton demonstrated that a mere 1mm shift of the talus (the bone in the ankle that connects the leg to the foot) to the side resulted in a 42% decrease in the contact area between the tibia (the shin bone) and the talus. This shift was predicted to increase the maximum stress on the joint by at least 72%. However, the delayed onset of arthritis in minimally misaligned ankles seemed inconsistent with these findings, leading researchers to hypothesize that synovial fluid (the lubricating fluid in joints) could play a significant role in stress distribution in the ankle.

To test this hypothesis, the researchers used a method called finite element analysis (FEA). FEA is a computational tool used to calculate stresses in complex structures by breaking them down into smaller, simpler components called elements. This technique is particularly useful when direct measurement is not possible, such as in this case, where the researchers were trying to measure contact stresses with and without fluid in a cadaveric model.

The researchers used four test configurations in their finite element model (FEM): a baseline ankle alignment, a 1mm lateral shift of the talus and fibula (the smaller bone of the lower leg), and the previous two bone orientations with fluid added. The ankle was loaded with a weight equal to the average body weight, and the maximum principal stress was computed.

The results of the simulations were intriguing. In the baseline anatomic configuration, the addition of fluid between the tibia, fibula, and talus reduced the maximum principal stress computed in the distal tibia at maximum load from 31.3 N/mm2 to 11.5 N/mm2. Following a 1mm lateral shift of the talus and fibula, there was a modest 30% increase in the maximum stress in cases where fluid was present. Interestingly, this shift created fewer high-stress locations on the tibial plafond (the weight-bearing “roof” of the ankle joint) when fluid was incorporated into the model.

These findings suggest that synovial fluid plays a significant role in distributing stresses within the ankle, a factor that has not been considered in previous dry cadaveric studies. The increase in maximum stress predicted by the simulation of an ankle with fluid was less than half that projected by cadaveric data, indicating a protective effect of fluid in the injured state.

This study’s implications are significant, particularly for the clinical understanding of ankle injuries. The protective role of synovial fluid may delay the onset of arthritis following an injury. Additionally, reactive joint effusions (an increase in joint fluid in response to injury or inflammation) may function to redistribute stresses with higher volumes of viscous fluid.

In conclusion, this study highlights the importance of considering both bony alignment and fluid dynamics in the ankle joint when studying loading patterns on the tibia. These factors should be accounted for in future experiments, potentially leading to improved treatment strategies for ankle injuries.

To read the full journal article, head to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *