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The foot is a very complex set of bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles. It is estimated that at some point in time, 80 percent of people will have some sort of problem with their feet. Many factors affect the condition of our feet: activity level, occupation and other health conditions. Another important factor affecting our feet are our shoes, so the importance of selecting good shoes should not be underestimated.
Anatomy of the Foot
The skeleton of the foot begins with the talus, or ankle bone, which forms part of the ankle joint. The two bones of the lower leg, the large tibia and the smaller fibula, come together at the ankle joint to form a very stable structure known as a mortise and tenon joint.
The two bones that make up the back part of the foot are the talus and the calcaneus, or heelbone. The talus is connected to the calcaneus at the subtalar joint. The ankle joint allows the foot to bend up and down. The subtalar joint allows the foot to rock from side to side.
Just down the foot from the ankle is a set of five bones called tarsal bones that work together as a group. These bones are unique in the way they fit together. There are multiple joints between the tarsal bones. When the foot is twisted in one direction by the muscles of the foot and leg, these bones lock together and form a very rigid structure. When they are twisted in the opposite direction, they become unlocked and allow the foot to conform to whatever surface the foot is contacting.
The tarsal bones are connected to the five long bones of the foot called the metatarsals. These two groups of bones are fairly rigidly connected, without much movement at the joints. Finally, there are the bones of the toes, the phalanges. The joint between the metatarsals and the first phalanx is called the metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). These joints form the ball of the foot, and movement in these joints is very important for a normal walking pattern. The big toe, or hallux, is the most important toe for walking, and the first MTP joint is a common area for problems in the foot.
Foot Ligaments and Tendons
Ligaments are the soft tissues that attach bones together. Ligaments are very similar to tendons. The difference is that tendons attach muscles to bones.
The large Achilles tendon is the most important tendon for walking, running and jumping. It attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone, allowing us to raise up on our toes. The posterior tibial tendon attaches one of the smaller muscles of the calf to the underside of the foot. This tendon helps support the arch and allows the foot to turn inward. The toes have tendons attached that bend the toes down (on the bottom of the toes) and straighten the toes (on the top of the toes). The anterior tibial tendon allows us to raise the foot. Two tendons run behind the outer bump of the ankle (called the lateral malleolus) and help turn the foot outward.
Many small ligaments hold the bones of the foot together. Most of these ligaments form part of the joint capsule around each of the joints of the foot. A joint capsule is a watertight sac that forms around all joints. It is made up of the ligaments around the joint and the soft tissues between the ligaments that fill in the gaps and form the sac.
Most of the motion of the foot is caused by the stronger muscles in the lower leg whose tendons connect in the foot. Contraction of the muscles in the leg is the main way that we move our feet to stand, walk, run, and jump.
There are numerous small muscles in the foot that affect the way that the toes move. Damage to any of these muscles can cause problems.
Most of the muscles of the foot are arranged in layers on the sole of the foot (the plantar surface). There they connect to and move the toes, as well as provide padding underneath the sole of the foot.
Nerves of the Foot
The main nerve to the foot, the tibial nerve, enters the sole of the foot by running behind the inside bump on the ankle, the medial malleolus. This nerve supplies sensation to the toes and sole of the foot and controls the muscles of the sole of the foot. Several other nerves run into the foot on the outside of the foot and down the top of the foot. These nerves primarily provide sensation to different areas on the top and outside edge of the foot.
Blood Vessels in the Foot
The main blood supply to the foot, the posterior tibial artery, runs beside the nerve of the same name.
To learn about a particular ailment affecting the foot, please click on a topic below:
Dennis M. Lox, MD, and the Florida Spine Center serve patients within the greater Tampa Bay area, including Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg, as well as all of Florida and the US. For more information contact Dr. Lox at 727-462-5582.
All statements, information or opinions provided by this website are provided for educational purposes only. We do not diagnose nor treat through this website or by telephone. As you consider any treatment, discuss them with your physician.