Walking on ageing feet: heel impact and forefoot deformation throughout the life course.


In this project you will address two biomechanical functions of the human foot that are often affected during ageing: (1) impact absorption during heel strike and (2) dynamic foot deformation (toe spreading) during mid-late stance.

(1) The heel has an anatomical shock absorber – the heel pad – but its shock absorbing qualities decline with age. You will be addressing if a shoe can offset this decline in biological shock absorption. Shoe cushioning has conventionally been substantial in athletics and shoes for older people. However, results are mixed at best. You will for the first time assess the effect of small amounts of cushioning as found in minimal shoes.

(2) The metatarsal and toe areas of the foot naturally spread under load but this may be affected by footwear and ageing, with a substantial proportion of the ageing population suffering from hallux valgus or bunions. You will quantify foot deformation as a function of age and quantify these movements within the shoe.

The results will enable to quantitatively answer the questions: do we need, and if so, how much, cushioning? What is a healthy shoe shape to enable foot motion? These insights will underpin the design of footwear for healthy ageing. We will communicate widely and do public outreach throughout the project.

Methods will include:

  • Measuring detailed 3D motions of the hindfoot, metatarsals and phalanges during walking with a range of cushioning properties, in young and older volunteers, to assess the motions during impact and the stability of the foot. This will use our MRC-funded X-Ray videography setup. Volunteers will walk using a range of sole properties in collaboration with Co-I Willems (3D printed bespoke shoes) and Vivobarefoot ltd. (commercial minimal shoes). In addition, they will use conventional cushioned shoes, and walk barefoot.
  • Measuring 3D ground reaction forces under these conditions using force plates.
  • Use Finite Element Modelling based on MRI reconstructions of bone morphology, to calculate the strain on the bones.


Training will be provided throughout the study in several ways. Project-specific hands-on training will be provided by the supervisory team and colleagues as needed and following regular Development Needs Analysis. This will include lab inductions, health and safety training, seminars, outreach opportunities and journal clubs. As a member of the Liverpool Doctoral College, a wide range of additional training resources will be available. The student will have regular (at least monthly) formal meetings with the supervisory team and yearly meetings with two assigned Academic Advisors.

The University is fully committed to promoting equality and diversity in all activities. In recruitment we emphasise the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

We are looking for a self-motivated candidate with a high 2.1 or 1st class degree in Biomechanics, Anatomy, Physiotherapy, Mechanical Engineering, or with equivalent relevant expertise. The candidate should be willing to work with human volunteers, have a good basic background in biomechanics and gait analysis, and be keen to learn all experimental and numerical techniques.

Applicants are welcome to send enquiries to Dr Kristiaan D’Aout – kristiaan.daout@liverpool.ac.uk. To apply, a CV and cover letter must be sent with subject line “PhD studentship application – D’Aout project”.


Open to UK applicants

Funding information

Funded studentship

The project is open to UK students and UK residents as well as EU citizens with settled status and is fully funded for a period of 3 years. Funding covers UK tuition fees (currently £4,712 per year), stipend (currently £18,622 per year) and £5,000 per year in research support fees.



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