Lower limb loading during sports movements

Ageing influences older adults’ ability to perform dynamic sports movements and these changes can place unique demands on footwear. Different characteristics for footwear may be needed for safe sporting activity. This project targets the development of new footwear specifically designed for older adults participating in sport and exercise, helping them stay active for longer.


Catalyst R1

Lead Organisation

University of Exeter


South West (England)


Creating healthy Active places, Sustaining Physical Activity

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About the project

There is already well documented evidence to show the benefits of staying active into older age on health, wellness and maintaining independence. This has led to a growing population of older adults engaging with sport and exercise, with 3.4 million over-55s taking part in sport on a weekly basis (up 28% since 2006). However, despite the documented benefits, little is known about the movement patterns and joint loading experienced by this population during sport-specific activity. This knowledge is required to create specific support to help people to stay active for longer. This project will involve the customisation of a new state-of-the-art research facility (vsimulators.co.uk) to recreate sports settings for the collection of detailed information on the movement patterns of active older adults when performing sports tasks such as stopping, twisting, jumping and turning.

This is the first such project of its kind. It will provide a unique facility and procedures to obtain new knowledge that can be applied to the development of a suite of specific support for the safe performance of sport and exercise for active older adults. The main aim of this catalyst project will be to assess the feasibility of using the new research facility comprising 3.6-m square force-sensitive floor, cameras to monitor movement throughout the entire area and ability for virtual reality, to accurately reproduce complete sports movements for active older adults. This will be achieved by comparing data collected in the new facility with data collected for similar movements performed in sport settings. The project will provide new knowledge on the typical forces between the shoe sole and the floor surface and the loads experienced by the knee and ankle joints of this population during sports tasks, and will form the foundation for future applications of the facility through collaboration with industry and academic partners. One target application already identified for this new facility and method will be the development of footwear specifically designed for older adults participating in sport and exercise, working in collaboration with project partner Cosyfeet (Somerset, UK). Studies of sports shoes and surfaces have previously focused on younger populations.

It is anticipated that the desirable characteristics of footwear for older adults will differ from those for younger populations. The process of ageing influences our ability to perform dynamic sports movements, with older adults typically experiencing a restricted range of joint motion, moving more slowly and travelling shorter distances when performing sports tasks such as those observed in tennis, squash, badminton and netball. This places different demands on footwear, thus influencing the required characteristics for safe performance. The design priorities for footwear may also be influenced by characteristics of the ageing population, such as greater focus on comfort due to foot health challenges or chronic knee pain associated with osteoarthritic changes. Currently there are numerous options available when selecting footwear for sports, but knowledge of the desirable characteristics to help active older adults select footwear to wear for sports is not available.

The development of a facility to provide new knowledge of the movement strategies of older adults performing sports tasks will help us to understand the amount of joint loading, the level of cushioning and the amount of shoe-surface grip suitable for this population. In summary, the provision of a facility for the detailed investigation of sport-specific tasks for the active older population will transform the field of healthy ageing by ultimately allowing the provision of recommendations for safe and comfortable conditions to facilitate continued activity for this growing population, enhancing health and wellbeing and improving quality of life and longevity.


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