Anatomy of the Foot

anatomy of the foot

Did you know that the average 130-pound person absorbs as much as 1.5 million pounds of step impact through his or her feet each day? That’s 400 million pounds a year that your feet have to carry. Ouch!

Your feet work for you the whole day, whether you stand, play, run or walk. Your feet sustain forces of up to 120% of your body weight – that is an enormous amount of wear and tear. That is why your feet are subject to more injury than any other part of the body. Without attention and proper care, foot disorders are likely to develop with age.

Factors that affect your feet:

• Activity level – Being physically active improves your balance, strengthens your muscles and bones, keeps your toes flexible, elevates your mood and reduces your risk of disease.

• Weight – “Active people who are ten pounds overweight and take 10,000 steps a day, subject their feet to 100,000 pounds of extra impact each day. More sedentary people who are 30 pounds overweight and take 5000 steps per day subject their feet to 150,000 pounds of additional impact” *1.

• Occupation – Sitting or standing for long hours will affect the condition of your feet. Moderate activity is the best way to exercise the muscles and keep them healthy.

• Health - Foot problems can sometimes foretell a more serious condition such as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders.

• Footwear - Properly fitting footwear (and replacing worn footwear) can play a critical role in preventing foot problems.

Facts about your feet

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•     One fourth of all the bones in the human body are located in your feet.

•     The skin on the bottom of your foot is twice as thick as the skin on the rest of your body. It contains millions of specialized nerve fibers that help us to maintain our balance *3.

•     Skin, blood vessels, and nerves give the foot its shape and durability and provide cell re-generation and essential muscular nourishment *4.  

•     Despite the small size of our foot bones, they are dense and strong and capable of sustaining large amounts of weight-bearing stress.

•     The small foot bones make up in strength what they lack in size.

•     Bones adapt to the stress placed upon them.  For example, heavier people have denser bones than lighter people; runners have denser bones than swimmers.

•     Running exerts three to four times the amount of pressure on your feet as compared to walking.

Your foot is made up of:

• 26 individual bones
• 33 joints
• 107 ligaments (tissues that connect bones to other bones)
• Tendons (fibrous tissues that connect muscles to bone)
• 100+ muscles
• A roadmap of blood vessels, nerves skin and soft tissues

Anatomy of the Foot

The foot is a strong and complex machine that is both a shock absorber and a propulsion engine. The foot is composed of an intricate matrix of bones, joints, tissues, tendons, nerves, muscles and ligaments that enable this amazing machine to withstand an enormous amount of weight bearing stress while maintaining balance and flexibility.


Saveanatomy of the foot

The forefoot bears half the body’s weight and balances pressure on the ball of the foot. Your forefoot is composed of the five toes (called phalanges) and their connecting long bones (metatarsals). Each toe is made up of several small bones, and together they provide stability for the foot.

The big toe (also known as hallux) has two phalanx bones. It articulates with the head of the first metatarsal which is called the first metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP). The MTP joint is a common area for foot problems to develop.

Your other four toes have three bones and two joints. These joints form the ball of the foot. Movement of these joints is very important to ensure a normal walking pattern.


Your midfoot forms the foot’s arch and absorbs any harsh impacts on the feet. It has five irregularly shaped tarsal bones that are connected to the forefoot and the hindfoot by muscles and the plantar fascia (arch ligament). These tarsal bones change their shape allowing you to walk on a multitude of surfaces *6.  

The small bones of the foot and the soft tissue structures that connect them are arranged in a way that enables the foot to transfer weight from the heel to the toes while walking and running.


The two bones that make up the back part of your foot are the talus and the calcaneus, or heel bone. The three joints in the rearfoot link the foot and the ankle.  The top of the talus is connected to the two long bones of the lower leg (tibia and fibula), forming a hinge that allows your foot to move up and down.

The heel bone is the largest bone in your foot.  It joins the talus to form the subtalar joint.  A layer of fat at the bottom of the heel bone cushions your heels on impact and thins with age *7.

Muscles, Tendons and Ligaments

There are 20 muscles in your foot that give it shape by holding the bones in position.  The muscles’ lengthening and shortening enable movement.
•     Anterior tibial - allows your foot to move upward
•     Posterior tibial - supports your arch
•     Peroneal tibial - controls movement on the outside of        your ankle
•     Extensors - raise the toes to initiate the act of stepping        forward
•     Flexors - help stabilize your toes against the ground. Smaller muscles enable the toes to lift and curl *8.

Nerves of the Foot

nerves of the foot

Ligaments & Tendons
Your ligaments are the soft tissue that connects bone to bone, whereas, your tendons connect muscle to bone. Both ligaments and tendons are made up of many small fibers that enable flexibility, movement and impact absorption.

The largest ligament, the plantar fascia, forms your arch on the sole of your foot from the heel to the toes. By stretching and contracting, this ligament allows the arch to curve or flatten, providing balance and giving the foot strength to initiate walking.

The most famous tendon is the large Achilles tendon which attaches your calf muscle to your heel bone enabling you to rise up on your toes and walk, run, and jump.

Get a quick and clear description of the biomechanics of the foot by viewing the below video.

For an in-depth understanding of the biomechanics of the foot’s role in propelling you during daily activities such as walking and running see Dr. Stephen M. Pribut.

Additional educational resources about the anatomy of the foot can be found at the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society.

Relationship of Feet to Lower Extremity

Pronation of the Foot

Taking care of your feet is critical to taking care of the rest of your body. Chronic pain of the knees, hips, back or neck can actually originate from having poor posture of the feet. If the bones in your feet and ankles are not properly aligned, the distribution of weight and excessive pressures in the wrong place can adversely affect other parts of the body.

A structural flaw or malfunction in any one part of the foot can result in the development of problems elsewhere in your body *10.

”When the foot pronates or collapses it causes the shins to rotate inwards, which causes the hips to rotate inwards, which causes the pelvis to rotate forwards and this results in a forward centre of gravity. As a result people arch their lower back and put a lot of pressure on their lumbar spine. This has an effect all the way up to your neck, and correcting foot posture, the foundations of your body, can relieve or even cure back pain. *11” 

Taking Care of Your Feet

take care of your happy feet

Easy steps to taking care of your feet:
1. Buy your shoes by fit, not by size. Try them on towards the end of the day since your feet tend to swell during the course of the day. In a 1993 survey of healthy women, at least 88% of the women wore shoes that were smaller than their feet (on average 1.2 cm smaller) and of those, 80% had foot pain *12.

2. Frequently soak, scrub, and massage your feet, toes and ankles. Epsom salt is known to help sooth away bunion pain, for example.

3. Exercise your feet. In today’s Western style society where people wear shoes most of the day, your feet, the bones, muscles, and tendons within, do not get the movement required to stay healthy as compared to those societies who do not wear shoes.

Keep Your Feet Flexible
We all know how to keep our biceps in shape, but few of us know how to keep toes in good condition. They take significant abuse from the hours we spend on our feet each day, especially in high-heel shoes. The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends doing these simple exercises to strengthen your toes and prevent foot discomfort. Dancers, runners and, frankly, all shoe wearers, will benefit from these exercises.

American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommended exercises

Sand walking
At the beach, take off your shoes and walk in the sand. This not only massages your feet, but strengthens your toes and is good foot conditioning. Watch for glass!
foot exercise in sand Golf Ball Roll
Roll a golf ball under the ball of your foot for two minutes. This is a great massage for the bottom of the foot. Recommended for plantar fasciitis (heel pain), arch strain or foot cramps.
foot exercise Marble Pick-up
Place 20 marbles on the floor. Pick up one marble at a time and put it in a small bowl. Do this exercise until you have picked up all 20 marbles. Recommended for pain in the ball of the foot, hammertoes and toe cramps.
foot exercise with marble Toe Point
Toe raise, toe point, toe curl: Hold each position for 5 secs - repeat 10x. Good for Hammertoes or Foot Cramps.

toe point
Towel Curls
Place a small towel on the floor and curl it toward you, using only your toes. Increase the resistance by putting a weight on the end of the towel. Relax and repeat this exercise 5x. Good for hammertoes, toe cramps and pain in the ball of the foot.

foot exercise towel curls

Feet endure tremendous pressure during our daily living. An average day of walking brings a force equal to several hundred tons on them. High heels increase the walking pressures on the metatarsals from 22% to 90% *2.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, by age 50, the average person has walked 55,000 miles or the equivalent of three laps around the earth.

narrow shoes90% of women wear shoes that are too narrow. This can cause the big toe to bend towards the smaller toes, thrusting the big toe joint outward resulting in a bunion. Of those who report foot problems, the vast majority experience pain in the forefoot.
The big toe takes almost half of our overall body weight and allows us to balance. It is also the most important toe for walking.

achilles heel statue

The Achilles Heel
Achilles was the son of Thetis and Peleus, the bravest hero in the Trojan war, according to Greek mythology. When Achilles was born, his mother, Thetis, tried to make him immortal by dipping him in the river Styx. As she immersed him, she held him by one heel and forgot to dip him a second time so the heel she held could get wet too. Therefore, the place where she held him remained untouched by the magic water of the Styx and that part stayed mortal or vulnerable. To this day, any weak point is called an “Achilles’ heel”. The strong tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone is the “Achilles’ tendon” *9.

If you don't love your feet, no one will.
Wear high heels for special occasions, and even then, only a heel height of 1 ½ inches. Your feet and body will thank you. And you will save money on trips to the podiatrists office *13