On the surface, our feet appear to be pretty simple: five toes, your heel, your arch, and your toe’s knuckles. Nothing too complicated.
The number of bones tells a different story. Each foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 200 muscles, tendons and ligaments. In fact, nearly 1/4 of the body’s bones are in our feet. This network of tiny bones are intricately arranged to provide us with the flexibility, support and balance we need for different kinds of movement.
So what are all of these bones called? What do they do? And where are they in the foot?
In this article, you’ll find a rundown of the bones in the foot, and some common injuries that affect them.
What are the bones of the foot called?
Generally, since we have five toes, bones in the feet are grouped in fives. For example, there are five metatarsals and five tarsals. Below you’ll find the primary bones in our feet.
The bone on top of the foot that forms a joint with the two bones of the lower leg – the tibia and fibula. The ankle joint allows your foot to move up and down, and transfers weight from the lower legs to the foot. There are interestingly no muscles that attach to the talus, a rarity in the human body.
The largest bone of the foot, which lies beneath the talus to form the heel bone (hence why it is also referred to as the heel bone). According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, the calcaneus is often compared to a hardboiled egg because it has a thin, hard shell on the outside and softer, spongy bone on the inside. When the outer shell is broken, the bone tends to collapse and become fragmented.
Five irregularly shaped bones of the midfoot that form the foot’s arch. The tarsal bones are the cuboid, navicular and medial, intermediate and lateral cuneiforms.
Five bones (labeled one through five, starting with the big toe) that make up the forefoot. Metatarsals are numbered one through five, starting from your first metatarsal, which is the bone in the foot just behind the big toe. It’s also the shortest, but thickest and strongest of the five. Moving towards your small toe, the remaining three are your second, third, fourth and fifth metatarsals, respectively.
The joints in your toes are also numbered the same way. Each toe has two joints: the metatarsophalangeal joint (at the base of the toe), and the interphalangeal joint (in the middle of the toe). For example, the first metatarsophalangeal joint (commonly referred to as the “MTP joint”) is located in the big toe. Bunions are a common foot condition that affects the MTP joint at the base of the big toe.
These 14 bones make up the toes. The big toe consists of two phalanges – the distal and proximal. The other toes have three.
Two small, pea-shaped bones that lie beneath the head of the first metatarsal in the ball of the foot. Generally, one is found on the side of the first metatarsal while the other is found toward the middle.
What common injuries affect the bones in the feet?
In terms of foot conditions, injuries to the bones include breaks, stress fractures, and bone bruises. Foot conditions can also affect the inter-workings of the foot such as the muscles, tendons, and joints. These conditions can include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis, neuroma, and tendinosis.
There are 2 general types of breaks: proximal avulsion fracture, and a Jones fracture.
Proximal avulsion fractures are common and usually occur alongside a sprained ankle. This type of fracture usually heals by using a rigid shoe, splint, brace or elastic bandage. You may also need to take it easy for a bit and limit weight-bearing activities, so the injury can heal.
Jones fractures are much less common but does not heal as well. This kind of fracture gets worse with time if you keep walking on it, so non-weight bearing is very important. People with this fracture are more likely to develop complications during the healing process, and may require an operation. Improperly healed injuries can also lead to osteoarthritis, so make sure you follow your care provider’s instructions.
The fifth metatarsal (the one attached to the pinkie toe) is the most common broken bone in the midfoot.
Bone generally takes 6-12 weeks to heal. Children’s bones generally heal faster than adult’s.
Osteoarthritis is essentially wear-and-tear of the joints in our feet. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints breaks down from overuse, causing the bones start rubbing against each other. This can lead to pain, inflammation and other bone damage, like bone spurs. Osteoarthritis is typically age-related, but it can also develop over time when an injury doesn’t heal properly. One of the best ways to lower the risk of developing osteoarthritis is to strengthen and condition the muscles and joints in our feet, legs and core region. Check our our Pinterest page for some quick and easy exercises you can do from home.
A Bunion is an injury to the first Metatarsophalangeal joint (first MTP joint). This is the joint at the base of our big toe that connects our big toe to the rest of the foot. This is a very important joint: it in fact absorbs several times our body weight when we move. A bunion occurs when pressure on the big toe forces the toe inwards and the MTP joint then starts protruding outward. Unfortunately, the only way to permanently reverse a bunion is surgery, but there are many ways you can stop them from forming or getting worse, the most important being proper footwear. In fact, the most common cause of bunions is ill-fitting footwear, specifically high heels or shoes that are too narrow at the toe box.
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