The anatomy of the foot and its function can predispose to common foot problems.
Common causes of foot pain include plantar fasciitis, bunions, flat feet, heel spurs, mallet toe, metatarsalgia, claw toe, and Morton's neuroma. If your feet hurt, there are effective ways to ease the pain This article provides an overview of foot anatomy and foot problems that come from overuse, injury, and normal wear and tear of the foot.
Each of your feet has 28 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. These structures work together to carry out two main functions:
- Propulsion (forward movement)
Plus, the foot must be flexible to adapt to uneven surfaces and remain stable.
The foot has three sections: the forefoot, midfoot, and hindfoot. There are bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in each of these sections.
- Phalanges: These are the toes. They are made up of a total of 14 bones: two for the big toe and three for each of the other four toes.
- Metatarsals: These are five long bones that extend from the base of each toe to the midfoot. The first metatarsal bone leads to the big toe and plays an important role in propulsion (forward movement). The second, third, and fourth metatarsal bones provide stability to the forefoot.
- Sesamoid bones: These are two small, oval-shaped bones beneath the first metatarsal on the underside (plantar surface) of the foot. It is embedded in a tendon at the head of the bone (the part nearest to the big toe). Its role is to reinforce and reduce stress on the tendon.
The midfoot contains five irregularly shaped bones called the tarsals. Together, the tarsals form the arch of the foot. The arch plays a key role in weight-bearing and foot stability.
These bones include:
- Medial cuneiform
- Intermediate cuneiform
- Lateral cuneiform
What Is a Lisfranc Injury?
- Calcaneus: This is the large bone at the heel of the foot, also known as the heel bone. Its main function is to transfer most of the body weight from the legs to the ground.
- Talus: This is the bone that sits between the calcaneus and the two bones of the lower leg (the tibia and fibula). It helps transfer weight and pressure across the ankle joint.
Joints are where two bones meet. In the feet, each big toe has two joints: the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the toe and the interphalangeal joint just above it.
The other four toes have three joints each: the metatarsophalangeal joint at the base of the toe, the proximal interphalangeal joint in the middle of the toe, and the distal phalangeal joint closest to the tip of the toe.
The muscles that control the movements of the foot start in the lower leg and are attached to the bones in the foot with tendons.
These are the main muscles that facilitate movement in the foot:
- Tibialisposterior: The muscle that supports the foot's arch
- Tibialis anterior: The muscle that allows the foot to move upward
- Peroneus longus and brevis: The muscles that control movement on the outside of the ankle
- Extensors: The muscles that raise the toes to make it possible to take a step
- Flexors: The muscles that stabilize the toes and curl them under
Tendons are fibrous connective tissues that attach muscles to bones. There are three major tendons that help facilitate foot movement, including flexion (forward bending of the foot) and dorsiflexion (backward bending of the foot):
- Achilles tendon: This is the most notable tendon of the foot which runs from the calf muscle to the heel. It is the strongest and largest tendon in the body that makes it possible to run, jump, climb stairs, and stand on your toes.
- Tibialisposterior: This tendon attaches the calf muscle to the bones on the inside of the foot and supports the arch of the foot.
- Tibialis anterior: This runs from the outer bone of the lower leg to the tarsals and first metatarsal which enables dorsiflexion.
Ligaments are fibrous connective tissues that connect bone to bone. These are the primary ligaments of the foot:
- Plantar fascia: This is the longest ligament of the foot that runs from the heel to the toes to form the arch. The plantar fascia provides strength for walking and assists with balance.
- Plantar calcaneonavicular: This is a ligament that connects the calcaneus to the talus. Its role is to support the head of the talus.
- Calcaneocuboid: This is the ligament that connects the calcaneus to the tarsal bones. It helps the plantar fascia support the arch of the foot.
Common Foot Problems
The average person has walked about 75,000 miles by age 50. Given how many moving parts there are in the foot, it's not surprising how vulnerable it is to injury or overuse.
Nine conditions specific to the foot can cause pain, restrict the movement of the foot, or lead to foot instability.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by microtears in the thick fibrous tissue on the underside of the foot, usually due to overstretching. Symptoms include pain in the heel and arch that is often worse in the mornings. Plantar fasciitis is common among-distance walkers or runners.
A bunion is a bony protrusion on either the inside edge of the foot or the pinkie toe side. Bunions form gradually when the bones in the foot become misaligned, often due to wearing shoes that don't fit well or that squeeze the toes together tightly.
The big toe can bend so far inward that it actually crosses under or over the adjacent toe, causing a secondary misalignment called a hammertoe. Usually, a painful callous will form on top of the second toe.
Pes planus (flat feet) is when the arc of the foot straightens out, often so completely that the entire sole comes in contact with the floor.
Flat feet can cause pain in the midfoot area as well as swelling of the ankle and arch. The imbalance can also lead to hip, knee, or lower back pain.
Pes planus can be congenital (meaning you are born with it), but more often it is a result of age or injury. Between 20% and 30% of people have some degree of flat-footedness.
As the largest bone in the foot, the calcaneus (heel) is prone to injury caused by faulty foot biomechanics (meaning problems with your gait).
One of the more common is the development of bony overgrowth called heel spurs that cause severe pain when standing or walking. Also known as calcaneal spurs, heel spurs are most common in people who have plantar fasciitis, flat feet, or high arches.
With a mallet toe, the joint in the middle of a toe becomes permanently bent to the extent that it points downward.
Mallet toes develop because of an imbalance in the muscles, tendons, or ligaments that hold the bones straight. As with bunions and hammertoe, mallet toe often forms as a result of wearing ill-fitting shoes, although it can also be caused by trauma or certain diseases.
Metatarsalgia is pain under the ball of the foot. It is often the result of pressure caused by high heel shoes or from conditions such as arthritis, nerve compression, or fractures or tears in ligaments that support the ball of the foot.
A claw toe is a deformity in which a toe bends downward from the middle joints and can sometimes even curl under the foot entirely. When this happens, callouses or corns will form on top of the affected toe. Sometimes, a corn can place pressure on nerves in the foot, causing pain.
This is a common problem in which compression on a nerve in the ball of the foot causes burning, tingling, and pain near the third and fourth toes. High heels are most often the culprit. Morton's neuroma can make you feel like you have a pebble in your shoe or on a fold in your sock.
Medical Conditions That Can Cause Foot Problems
The feet are subject to a variety of medical problems, including:
- Sprainsand strains
- Ruptured tendon or ligament
- Bone fractures
- Tendinitis (tendon inflammation)
- Osteoarthritis ("wear-and-tear arthritis")
- Rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune arthritis)
- Athlete's foot
- Onychomycosis (nail fungal infection)
To diagnose problems related to the anatomical structures in the foot, your healthcare provider or an orthopedic specialist will look at your foot to look for signs of swelling, deformity, skin growth, or misalignment.
They will review your symptoms and medical history and ask you to walk around to look for abnormalities in your gait (referred to as a gait analysis).
Imaging tests are often central to the diagnosis and can include:
- X-ray: This standard imaging test involves low-level radiation and is suitable for detecting things like bone fractures, dislocations, or arthritis damage.
- Computed tomography (CT): This imaging technology combines multiple X-rays to create a more three-dimensional representation of the foot structure.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This imaging technique uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to create highly detailed images without radiation. It is especially good at imaging soft tissues.
The treatment for a foot problem will depend on the underlying cause.
Foot pain from any cause can often be relieved with over-the-counter painkillers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), Advil (ibuprofen), or Aleve (naproxen).
More severe cases may require steroid injections to reduce joint inflammation or prescription pain relievers like Celebrex (celecoxib) to relieve chronic arthritis pain.
For foot problems caused by anatomical deformities, foot orthotics (inserts worn inside the shoes) can help compensate for these problems and reduce pain. Standard versions are available in pharmacies, but often a doctor will order custom-made orthotics or custom-fitted shoes.
Physical therapy can improve the strength and flexibility of the feet and ankles. Sometimes conditions like a displaced fracture, bunions, or hammertoe will require surgery if they are causing severe pain or disability.
The foot is a complex structure comprised of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It is vulnerable to injury both from trauma and overuse, as well as diseases and infections. Among some of the more common structural foot problems are bunions, claw toes, flat feet, hammertoes, heel spurs, mallet toes, metatarsalgia, Morton's neuroma, and plantar fasciitis.
The diagnosis of a structural foot problem may involve a physical exam, a review of your symptoms and medical history, a gait analysis, and an imaging test such as an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI scan.
The treatment can vary based on the condition but may involve over-the-counter or prescription painkillers, foot orthotics, custom-fitted shoes, physical therapy, or surgery.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the bottom of your foot called?
The bottom of the foot is known as the sole. The padded area on the bottom of the foot is known as the plantar aspect.
What is the top of your feet called?
The top of your foot above the arch is known as the instep. In medical terms, the top of the foot is the dorsum or dorsal region. The back of the hand is also known as the dorsal region.
What are common foot problems in older adults?
Foot problems in older adults include:
(Video) Foot Anatomy Animated Tutorial
- Foot pain
- Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
- Plantar fasciitis
- Hallux rigidus (degenerative disease of the first metatarsal)
- Lesser toe deformities
- Plantar heel pain
Learn More:How Aging Affects Your Feet
What are the most common foot and ankle injuries? ›
- Ankle Sprains.
- Plantar Fasciitis.
- Achilles Tendonitis or Tears.
- Turf Toe.
- Broken Metatarsal.
- Neuromas. Too-tight or high-heeled shoes, among other causes, can compress the nerves between your toes. ...
- Stress Fracture. ...
- Plantar Fasciitis. ...
- Heel Spurs. ...
- Bunions. ...
- Sesamoiditis. ...
- Achilles Tendinitis. ...
- Ankle Sprains.
The most common ankle injuries are strains, sprains, and fractures. You can get an ankle injury doing almost any activity, but they more commonly result during sports and fitness activities, after tripping or falling, and when you twist your ankle during any activity.What is the basic anatomy of the foot and ankle? ›
The hindfoot forms the ankle and heel and is made up of the talus bone and calcaneus or heel bone. The heel bone is the largest bone in the foot. The midfoot connects the hindfoot to the forefoot, and consists of one navicular bone, one cuboid bone, and three cuneiform bones.What are the three major injuries of the ankle? ›
Ankle strains, sprains and fractures are among the most common orthopedic injuries. While they are most often seen as a sports injury, you don't have to be an athlete to hurt your ankle.What are 3 common pathologies of the ankle foot? ›
- sprains (injury to ligaments)
- tendonitis (inflammation of the tendons)
- arthritis (chronic inflammation of joints)
- Tennis or Golf Elbow.
- Hamstring Strain. ...
- Sciatica. ...
- Shin Splints. ...
- Groin Pull. ...
- Concussion. ...
- ACL Tear or Strain. The ACL, anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the major stabilizing ligaments of the knee. ...
- Hip Flexor Strain. The hip flexors are muscles found on the upper-front side of your thigh. ...
These may also occur with ankle fractures as well. The most common and significant ligament tears include tears in the Anterior TaloFibular Ligament (ATFL), CalcaneoFibular Ligament (CFL), and the large Deltoid ligament complex.What is the most common injury to the lower leg and ankle? ›
Sprains. Sprains are stretches and tears of ligaments. A sprained ankle is the most common ligament injury of the leg.What is the most common foot pain? ›
Injury, overuse or conditions causing inflammation involving any of the bones, ligaments or tendons in the foot can cause foot pain. Arthritis is a common cause of foot pain. Injury to the nerves of the feet may result in intense burning pain, numbness or tingling (peripheral neuropathy).
What is the most common ankle pain? ›
- Achilles tendinitis.
- Achilles tendon rupture.
- Avulsion fracture.
- Broken foot.
- Bursitis (joint inflammation)
- Gout (arthritis related to excess uric acid)
- Osteoarthritis (disease causing the breakdown of joints)
- Osteochondritis dissecans.
- Achilles tendon problems.
- Ankle fractures.
- Ankle sprains.
- Corns, calluses, and blisters.
- Foot fractures.
There are several signs and symptoms of a torn ligament, including: Snapping, popping or a crackling sound when the injury occurs. Pain that doesn't improve within 24 to 72 hours. Swelling that doesn't lessen within 24 to 72 hours.What does a torn ligament in ankle feel like? ›
What Are the Symptoms of a Torn Ligament in an Ankle? You can feel sudden pain, and a tearing, snapping or popping sensation – which might be so bad you can't put weight on your foot – and swelling around your ankle joint. In some cases, there may bruising that extends down your foot and up your calf.What causes pain around the ankle and foot? ›
The most common causes include injury, arthritis and normal wear and tear. Depending on the cause, you may feel pain or stiffness anywhere around the ankle. Your ankle may also swell, and you may not be able to put any weight on it. Usually, ankle pain gets better with rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications.What are the 7 common injuries? ›
- Strains. Strains are by far the most common of all sports-related injuries simply because we use so many muscles and tendons when we exercise or play. ...
- Sprains. ...
- Knee injuries. ...
- Fractures. ...
- Tennis elbow. ...
- Plantar fasciitis/shin splints. ...
- Back injuries/back pain. ...
- Sprains. ...
- Strains. ...
- Fractures. ...
- Concussions. ...
- Overuse injuries. ...
- Preventing sports injuries.
A broken ankle or ankle fracture is when one or more of the bones in your ankle break. Severe sprains and fractures have similar symptoms (pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness) and are both caused by twisting or rotating your ankle, tripping or falling, or trauma to your ankle.What is Sever's disease? ›
What is Sever's disease? Sever's disease is the most common cause of heel pain in growing children, especially those who play sports or exercise regularly. Also known as calcaneal apophysitis, Sever's disease occurs when the growth plate in the back of the heel becomes inflamed and painful.Why does my ankle hurt but there is no swelling? ›
The answer is that you likely have a high ankle sprain, which tends to make your ankle hurt but not cause swelling. High ankle sprains are also called syndesmotic ankle injuries. They affect the ligaments between your tibia and fibula, and these are found just above your ankle joint.
What are some major foot problems? ›
- Athlete's foot. Itchy, stinging, and burning feet and toes may be signs of athlete's foot. ...
- Blisters. Raised pockets of fluid on your feet are known as blisters. ...
- Bunions. A bump on the side of your big toe may be a bunion. ...
- Corns. ...
- Plantar fasciitis. ...
- Heel spur. ...
- Claw toe. ...
- Mallet or hammer toe.
- Tennis elbow.
- Swimmer's shoulder.
- Runner's knee & jumper's knee.
- Achilles tendinitis.
- Shin splints.
Common chronic injuries include arthritis, tendonitis, tennis elbow, repetitive strain injury (RSI) and runner's knee. These injuries can be linked to incorrect training techniques, pushing your body too fast, or even by over-extending your body in a certain motion during a sporting activity.What are the 4 main types of injuries? ›
- cuts and lacerations.
- burns and abrasions.
- penetrating wounds.
- broken bones and fractures.
As previously mentioned, the ATFL is the most commonly injured ankle ligament, followed by the calcaneofibular ligament (CFL), and then posterior talofibular ligament (PTFL). Lateral ankle instability can be defined as either functional instability or mechanical instability.Can you walk on a torn ankle ligament? ›
Can You Walk with a Torn Ligament in Your Ankle? Yes, you can usually walk with a torn ligament thanks to the other ligaments and supporting structures, but you may feel a lot of pain and a sensation of weakness and instability as you walk. Will a full tear, you can walk with an Aircast boot.How do I know what type of ankle injury I have? ›
If your ankle hurts or is tender to the touch directly over your ankle bone, you probably have a fracture. If the pain is in the soft part of your ankle, it's more likely a sprain.What does a peroneal tendon tear feel like? ›
Symptoms of peroneal tendon injuries can include pain and swelling, weakness in the foot or ankle, warmth to the touch, and a popping sound at the time of injury. Many patients do not need surgical treatment for peroneal tendon injuries.How do you know if you have torn ligaments in ankle? ›
“A torn ligament is considered a severe sprain that will cause pain, inflammation, bruising and result in ankle instability, often making it difficult and painful to walk.What are common foot problems in older adults? ›
Some of the most common foot problems in older adults include bunions, corns, calluses, hammertoes, ingrown, thickened or discolored nails, diabetic foot conditions, poor circulation, and heel pain. Regular visits to a podiatrist can help you maintain your foot health as you age.
What is the best painkiller for foot pain? ›
Oral analgesic medications such as acetaminophen (paracetamol) or aspirin are often the first line choice for quick relief of foot pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are also often recommended and can help to reduce inflammation at the same time.Is there a disease that makes your feet hurt? ›
Arthritis, a fractured or broken bone, gout, tendinitis, plantar fasciitis can all make your feet hurt. You're more likely to have foot problems as you get older and your joints wear down. Being overweight puts extra pressure on your feet, which can also lead to pain.How do I know if my ankle pain is serious? ›
- Have severe pain or swelling.
- Have an open wound or severe deformity.
- Have signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and tenderness in the affected area or a fever greater than 100 F (37.8 C)
- Cannot put weight on your foot.
There are numerous causes of ankle pain without injury with the main cause being due to wear and tear and conditions that are usually associated with this are different types of arthritis such as gout, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis (Rao et al., 2012).How do you treat a soft tissue injury in the ankle? ›
The recommended treatment for a strain is the same as for a sprain: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This should be followed by simple exercises to relieve pain and restore mobility. For a serious tear, the soft tissues may need to be repaired surgically.What are the 3 most common injuries? ›
The most common sports injuries are: Sprains and strains. Knee injuries. Swollen muscles.How do I know if my foot injury is serious? ›
- Have severe pain or swelling.
- Have an open wound or a wound that is oozing pus.
- Have signs of infection, such as redness, warmth and tenderness in the affected area or you have a fever over 100 F (37.8 C)
- Are unable to walk or put weight on your foot.
Pain usually gets worse when you try to move the foot or put weight on it. Swelling, redness, and warmth. The injured area is often swollen and red right after it is injured, and may also be warm to the touch. Weakness or loss of function.Can an xray show torn ligament in the ankle? ›
X-rays do NOT show tendons, ligaments, nerves, cartilage or blood vessels. X-rays typically show bones and joints, and may, at times, show the absence of skin (e.g. infection).Can an ankle ligament repair itself? ›
Nearly all isolated low ankle sprains can be treated without surgery. Even a complete ligament tear (Grade 3) will heal without surgical repair if it is immobilized and rehabilitated appropriately.
What does extensor tendonitis feel like? ›
The main symptom of extensor tendonitis in the foot is pain on the top of the foot. It is often right where your shoelaces are. You may feel this pain while you are running or walking. Sometimes, there is visible swelling or a bump on the extensor tendon that is injured or inflamed.Why do my ankles and arches hurt? ›
It's caused by inflammation, overuse, or injury to the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is the ligament that connects the front of your foot to your heel. It's often seen in runners, but it can also occur in nonrunners. If you have plantar fasciitis, you may feel pain and stiffness in the heel and arch.Why does the area around my ankles hurt? ›
Tonsillitis is most often caused by common viruses, but bacterial infections also can be the cause. The most common bacterium causing tonsillitis is Streptococcus pyogenes (group A streptococcus), the bacterium that causes strep throat. Other strains of strep and other bacteria also may cause tonsillitis.What would cause my feet and ankles to hurt? ›
The most common causes include injury, arthritis and normal wear and tear. Depending on the cause, you may feel pain or stiffness anywhere around the ankle. Your ankle may also swell, and you may not be able to put any weight on it. Usually, ankle pain gets better with rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications.What is the most frequently injured aspect of the ankle? ›
The lateral ankle complex, which is composed of the anterior talofibular, calcaneofibular, and posterior talofibular ligaments, is the most commonly injured site.What is the most frequently injured side of the ankle? ›
The lateral malleolus is on the outside of your ankle, and likewise is the bottom of the fibula. There are many, many ligaments and tendons supporting the ankle, but the most commonly injured and most important ones to mention are located on the lateral, or outside, and the medial, or inside, of the ankle.How can I tell if I tore a ligament in my ankle? ›
- Swelling around your ankle joint.
- A feeling of instability.
- Bruising – sometimes up your lower leg and into your foot.
- Tenderness to touch.
- Pain when putting weight on your ankle.
- Popping sound at the time of injury.
Burning feet syndrome, also known as Grierson-Gopalan syndrome, is a set of symptoms in which the feet often become uncomfortably hot and painful. The burning sensation may become more intense at night, with some relief occurring during the day. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.What is neuropathy in the feet and ankles? ›
Peripheral neuropathy, a result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves), often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet. It can also affect other areas and body functions including digestion, urination and circulation.What is the most common foot ligament injury? ›
Plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia) is the most common foot ligament injury. It's also the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia ligament stretches along the bottom of your foot from your heel.
What type of injury has pain at the side of the ankle as a symptom? ›
A sprained ankle occurs when the ligaments are forced beyond their normal range of motion. Most sprained ankles involve injuries to the ligaments on the outer side of the ankle.