In diabetic neuropathic subjects, the hardness of foot sole soft tissue increases, and its thickness reduces, in different foot sole areas. Finite element analysis (FEA) of a three-dimensional two-arch model of the foot was performed to evaluate the effect of foot sole stresses on plantar ulcer development. Three sets of foot sole soft-tissue properties, i.e. isotropic (with control hardness value), diabetic isotropic (with higher hardness value) and anisotropic diabetic conditions, were simulated in the push-off phase, with decreasing foot sole soft-tissue thicknesses in the forefoot region, and the corresponding stresses were calculated. The results of the stress analyses for diabetic subject (anisotropic) foot models showed that with non-uniformly increased hardness and decreased foot sole soft-tissue thickness, the normal and shear stresses at the foot sole increased (compared with control values) by 52.6% and 53.4%, respectively. Stress analyses also showed high ratios of gradients of normal and shear stresses of the order of 6.6 and 3.3 times the control values on the surface of the foot sole, and high relative values of stress gradients for normal and shear stresses of 6.25 and 4.35 times control values respectively, between the foot sole surface and the adjacent inner layer of the foot sole, around a particular region of the foot sole with anisotropic properties. These ratios of high gradients and relative gradients of stresses due to changes in soft-tissue properties may be responsible for the development of plantar ulcers in diabetic neuropathic feet. © IFMBE: 2004.