The foot is composed of a highly complex combination of structures that work together to provide balance, support, and stability. The foot’s complicated mechanism is supported and made possible by nerves, soft tissue, bones, ligaments, muscles, and blood vessels allowing humans to walk, run, and perform a range of functions and activities.
The foot has a total of 26 bones that provide overall support including seven tarsal bones, five metatarsal bones, and fourteen phalanges. These bones are grouped according to the three sections of the foot:
Forefoot – Located at the front of the foot, it contains the metatarsals (the longer bones) and the phalanges (bones that make up the fingers and toes)
Midfoot – Located between the forefoot and hindfoot, it contains five out of the seven tarsal bones that form the arch of the foot: the cuboid, navicular, and the cuneiforms (medial, middle, and lateral)
Hindfoot – Located at the back of the foot, it is composed of the remaining two tarsal bones – the talus and the calcaneus. The talus supports the tibia and fibula (bones of the leg) while the calcaneus (the largest bone in the foot) forms the foundation of the rear part of the foot.
The foot also has several muscles that control its motion, giving it a range of movement and providing stability as the foot hits the ground.
Among the tendons that fasten the muscles to the bones, the Achilles tendon is, by far, the largest stretching from the calf to the heel of the foot. It is also the strongest as it supports the foot when a person runs, jumps, walks, and performs other related activities.
The foot also has ligaments that support and protect the joints and keep tendons in check. The plantar fascia is the longest ligament and it stretches from the heel to the toes and forms the arch on the bottom of the foot. It continually adjusts to the movement of the foot and can stretch and contract when and as needed.
Common Foot Problems and Conditions
Plantar fasciitis – When the plantar fascia ligament is overworked, it becomes inflamed and causes pain on the bottom of the foot.
Gout – This is a medical condition that causes inflammation in the big toe due to crystals that accumulate in the joints. The condition makes walking around difficult for those who have it. In fact, some find it necessary to use a cane for support.
Athlete’s foot – This is a fungal infection that commonly affects individuals whose feet have become sweaty while wearing tight-fitting shoes. Its symptoms include a scaly rash that usually causes burning, stinging, and itching sensation.
Bunions, calluses, and corns – These are common foot problems caused by ill-fitting footwear. Bunions are bony protuberance that causes the big toe to be deformed and curve inward. Calluses and corns, on the other hand, are characterized by unsightly, thick, and hardened layers of skin.
- Fractures – This refers to the condition in which the bones in the feet break due to injury or chronic wear and tear.
Common Foot Procedures and Treatments
Imaging diagnostic tests – Patients who experience symptoms related to foot problems may need to undergo imaging diagnostic tests so their doctors can make an official diagnosis. These include x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.
Foot surgery – While the majority of foot problems respond very well to conservative forms of treatment (such as medications and home remedies), surgical intervention may be required for more serious cases. These include:
Fusions – This is considered in cases of arthritic conditions of foot and ankles. It involves stabilizing the affected bones by fusing them together using pins, screws or plates.
Bunion removal - This corrects a deformed area near the big toe. However, this is only considered if all nonsurgical treatment methods have been tried but failed to treat the condition.
Tendon surgery – This procedure repairs torn or damaged tendons, which are soft tissues that connect muscles to the bone.
Neuroma surgery – A neuroma is a condition that develops when the nerve in the ball of the foot has been damaged due to abnormal movement of the bones in the area. A surgical procedure can be performed if the condition progresses and if there's a risk that the nerve will become permanently damaged.