Dorsal Interossei of the Foot

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Description[edit | edit source]

The dorsal interossei muscles are a group of four bicephalic feather-shaped muscles that fill the space between the metatarsal bones of the foot. Their function lies in spreading the toes apart and in flexing the metatarsophalangeal joints of the second to the fifth toe. To see a 3D model of the dorsal interossei of the foot follow this link.

Musculi interossei dorsales pedis [1]

Origin[edit | edit source]

The interossei dorsales pedis originate on the base of the metatarsal bones I-V[2]. With two heads each, they emanate from the two adjacent bone sides facing each other and integrate into one insertion. Parts of the interossei dorsales originate from the Ligament plantare longum which is situated on the bottom side of the foot.

They are part of the deep central forefoot compartment[3], also described as the fourth layer [4].

Insertion[edit | edit source]

The musculus (M.) interosseus dorsalis I inserts on the medial side of the base of the second toe's phalanx proximalis[2]. The musculi (Mm.) interossei dorsales II-IV insert on the lateral side of the base of phalanges proximales II-IV[2].

Nerve[edit | edit source]

Innervation comes from the nervus plantaris lateralis (S2-S3); in rare cases also from the nervus tibialis. [2]

Function[edit | edit source]

  • Flexion of the metatarsophalangeal joints (MTPJ) II-IV, medial adduction of the second toe, and lateral adduction of the third and fourth toe[2]
  • Extension of the proximal and distal phalangeal joints II-IV[2]

Together with its synergistic partners (see below) the dorsal interossei of the foot assist in maintaining the balance during the weight shifting in foot roll-over.

Synergists[edit | edit source]


  • Flexion: M. flexor digitorum longus, M. flexor digitorum brevis, Mm. interossei plantares 1-2 (III-IV), Mm. lumbricales pedis 1-3 (II-IV)
  • Abduction: none

Antagonists[edit | edit source]


  • Flexion: M. extensor digitorum longus, M. extensor digitorum brevis
  • Abduction: Mm. interossei plantares 1-2 (III-IV)

Clinical relevance[edit | edit source]

Although the dorsal interossei are a set of very small muscles, they are important to maintain balance during stance and gait. In case of walking or running barefoot for an unusually long period of time these muscles can sustain damage due to overloading. [6] This may also happen when standing, walking, or exercising on footwear that does not support the arches of the foot. Metatarsalgia, or sharp pain when putting pressure on the foot (e.g. in standing up or walking), located on the distal instep or in between the metatarsal bones can be an indicator for one or more strained dorsal interossei muscles.

The M. interosseus dorsalis pedis IV is an easily accessible muscle and is likely to be used for routine electromyographic diagnosis of neurological diseases: "Abnormal [spontaneous activity] in [fourth dorsal interosseus pedis] correlates well with the overall neurologic condition, and it may be a useful muscle to include in routine electrodiagnostic evaluation."[7]

Assessment[edit | edit source]

An Oxford scale muscle strength assessment can be done as follows for the scales of 0/1 and 2/3.[5] Since the interossei dorsales pedis can rarely be activated willingly, the resistance tests are usually avoided.

  • 0/1: supine position, the knee is in supported flexion. The therapist holds the foot in a neutral position and instructs the patient to "spread your toes".
  • 2/3: supine position, the knee is in supported flexion. The therapist holds the foot in a neutral position, watching for small movements of the toes, and instructs the patient to "try to spread your toes".

Palpation[edit | edit source]

To see a demonstration of the muscle palpation technique for the dorsal interossei of the foot, please go to minute 2:30 of the video.


Trigger points[edit | edit source]

Trigger points of the interossei dorsales pedis can be located when palpating the muscle belly in between the dorsal metatarsi on the instep. Typical patterns are pain on the base of the toes, in some cases expanding all the way to the tip of the toes, or pain on the instep extending to the anterior of the ankle and lower leg.[9]

Stretching[edit | edit source]

When stretching each of the Mm. interossei dorsalis pedis (MIDP) remember that the main function is flexion and abduction in the MTPJ:

  • MIDP I: pulling the second toe into extension and lateral abduction
  • MIDP II: pulling the second toe into extension and medial abduction
  • MIDP III: pulling the third toe into extension and medial abduction
  • MIDP IV: pulling the fourth toe into extension and medial abduction

Muscle control & strengthening[edit | edit source]

Since the interossei dorsales pedis can rarely be willingly controlled and many patients have weak foot muscles in general, the first step is to establish a feeling of muscle activation. This can be approached by toe-spreading exercises, perhaps with pre-positioning of the toes by the therapist and the command to "keep the toes in this position". Further, the patient can be instructed to strengthen the interossei dorsales pedis by spreading the toes without assistance. In general, foot muscle strengthening exercises can be used to train the whole musculature, e.g. walking in sand, picking up tissues with the toes, or holding sticks or pencils between toes.

Resources[edit | edit source]

  1. Gray H. Anatomy of the human body, by Henry Gray, thoroughly rev. and re-edited by Warren H. Lewis. Philadelphia: Lea & Febiger, 1918.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Putz R, Pabst R. Atlas der Anatomie des Menschen Limitierte Jubiläumsausgabe: der komplette Atlas in einem Band. 21. Aufl. München: Urban & Fischer, 2004
  3. Faymonville C, Andermahr J, Seidel U, Müller LP, Skouras E, Eysel P, Stein G. Compartments of the foot: topographic anatomy. Surgical and radiologic anatomy 2012;34(10):929-933.
  4. Teach Me Anatomy Series. Muscles of the foot. Available from: (last accessed: 22.09.2020).
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Valerius KP, Frank A, Kolster BC, Hamilton C, Alejandre Lafont E, Kreutzer R. Das Muskelbuch Anatomie Untersuchung Bewegung, 6.überarbeitete Auflage. Berlin: KVM Der Medizinverlag, 2002.
  6. Benjamin BE. Essential Skills, Interosseous muscle strains. Massage & bodywork, 2012. Available from: (last accessed: 26.09.2020).
  7. Siddiqi ZA, Nasir A, Ahmed SN. The fourth dorsal interosseus pedis muscle: a useful muscle in routine electromyography. Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology, 2007;24(6):444-449.
  8. Blackriver and Bootsma Education. Muscle Palpation - Plantar interossei & Dorsal interossei. Available from: (last accessed: 26.09.2020).
  9. Davies C, Davies A. The trigger point therapy workbook: Your self-treatment guide for pain relief. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, 2013.