Statistical parametric mapping of the regional distribution and ontogenetic scaling of foot pressures during walking in Asian elephants (Elephas maximus)

Olga Panagiotopoulou, Todd C. Pataky, Zoe Hill, John R. Hutchinson

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Foot pressure distributions during locomotion have causal links with the anatomical and structural configurations of the foot tissues and the mechanics of locomotion. Elephant feet have five toes bound in a flexible pad of fibrous tissue (digital cushion). Does this specialized foot design control peak foot pressures in such giant animals? And how does body size, such as during ontogenetic growth, influence foot pressures? We addressed these questions by studying foot pressure distributions in elephant feet and their correlation with body mass and centre of pressure trajectories, using statistical parametric mapping (SPM), a neuroimaging technology. Our results show a positive correlation between body mass and peak pressures, with the highest pressures dominated by the distal ends of the lateral toes (digits 3, 4 and 5). We also demonstrate that pressure reduction in the elephant digital cushion is a complex interaction of its viscoelastic tissue structure and its centre of pressure trajectories, because there is a tendency to avoid rear 'heel' contact as an elephant grows. Using SPM, we present a complete map of pressure distributions in elephant feet during ontogeny by performing statistical analysis at the pixel level across the entire plantar/palmar surface. We hope that our study will build confidence in the potential clinical and scaling applications of mammalian foot pressures, given our findings in support of a link between regional peak pressures and pathogenesis in elephant feet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1584-1593
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Elephant
  • Locomotion
  • Plantar pressure
  • Random field theory
  • Statistical parametric mapping

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