Joint Alignment and Heart Health, Searching for a Connection

Joy Oakman 2015 is hoping to connect the dots between joint alignment, range of motion and an individual’s cardiovascular health. Her research as a summer fellow specifically examines the relationship between foot and knee angle and heart health. “This research has made me much more confident in working with patients and fellow researchers,” says Oakman, “and a lot more comfortable with data collection and analysis of an individual’s health measures.”

Joy Oakman 2015

Oakman has been working in the Ursinus HEART Lab to conduct research that examines cardiovascular health through blood pressure and blood vessel function, as it relates to exercise and diet. “Cardiovascular health, in relation to joint angle and mechanics, is something that podiatrists and orthopedists have to consider every day,” says Oakman. “Alignment of the lower extremities and range of motion of both the feet and knees can be related to a person’s health and fitness status.”

The HEART lab at Ursinus examines the effects of lifestyle modifications on cardiovascular health. The focus is on exercise interventions aimed at improving health, increasing adherence to exercise, as well as reducing weight and cardiovascular risk.  Some studies show that obesity is closely related to flat footedness and misalignment of the lower extremities, says Oakman. Some have shown that foot range of motion may be hindered in those individuals that are more flat-footed. These study results could reveal that misalignment, combined with excess body weight across joints, can lead to discomfort and less range of motion. Those factors could keep individuals from wanting to exercise to improve their fitness. “Our current study will measure stationary angles of the knee and ankle, as well as knee flexion range of motion, foot dorsiflexion range of motion, and foot inversion/eversion range of motion,” says Oakman. The tests they use to measure cardiovascular health include VO2max, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, body composition, 3-day diet logs, blood vessel ultrasounds, clinic blood pressure, and 24 hour blood pressure monitoring.

“Joy has done research in my lab for a year now,” says Deborah L. Feairheller, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Exercise and Sport Science in the Department of Health and Exercise Physiology and Director of HEART Laboratory.  “Since Joy has an interest in podiatry, we created her study to include the joint measurements. Running a clinical research study gives her valuable experience in both research and patient management.”

Oakman’s other responsibility this summer as a summer FUTURE Mentor is to help Avery Perez (the FUTURE student) learn research. She has mentored Perez, teaching him the research skills that she has learned; as well as teaching him how to schedule, coordinate, and conduct patient testing.