BACKGROUND: Tibialis posterior (TP) dysfunction is a common painful complication in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which can lead to the collapse of the medial longitudinal arch. Different theories have been developed to explain the causality of tibialis posterior dysfunction. In all these theories, pain is a central factor, and yet, it is uncertain to what extent pain causes the observed biomechanical alterations in the patients. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of experimental tibialis posterior muscle pain on gait mechanics in healthy subjects.
METHODS: Twelve healthy subjects were recruited for this randomized crossover study. Experimental pain was induced by ultrasound-guided injection of 1 mL hypertonic saline into the upper part of the right tibialis posterior muscle with the use of isotonic saline as non-pain-inducing control. Subsequently, kinematic data during three self-paced over ground walking for each condition were collected. Ground reaction forces and external moments were measured from force plates installed in the floor. Painful areas were evaluated using body charts and pain intensity scoring via a verbal numerical rating scale.
FINDINGS: Decreased hip internal rotation was observed during the pain condition at the end of the stance phase. There were no changes in gait velocity and duration of stand phase between the pain and no pain conditions. Reduced external joint moment was found for external knee rotation and for external hip rotation.
INTERPRETATION: The study has demonstrated that induced pain in the TP muscle evokes kinematic alteration in the hip and the knee joints, but not in the ankle, which suggest an underlying early stage joint compensatory mechanism. These findings suggest the need to include those joints in current physical evaluations of tibialis posterior dysfunction.