Functional Anatomy of the Foot

Original Editor - Ewa Jaraczewska

Top Contributors - Ewa Jaraczewska and Jess Bell  

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Human feet allow bipedal locomotion,[1] and they are an essential sensory structure for postural control.[2] The foot structure is complex, consisting of many bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. The foot is divided into three parts: rearfoot, midfoot, and forefoot. A clinician's ability to understand the anatomical structures of the foot is crucial for assessment and treatment, especially for clinicians working with clients with musculoskeletal conditions.[3] [4] This article discusses the key anatomical structures of the foot.

Key Terms[edit | edit source]

Axes: lines around which an object rotates. The rotation axis is a line that passes through the centre of mass. There are three axes of rotation: sagittal passing from posterior to anterior, frontal passing from left to right, and vertical passing from inferior to superior. The rotation axes of the foot joints are perpendicular to the cardinal planes. Therefore, motion at these joints results in rotations within three planes. Example: supination involves inversion, internal rotation, and plantar flexion.

Bursae: reduces friction between the moving parts of the body joints. It is a fluid-filled sac. There are four types of bursae: adventitious, subcutaneous, synovial, and sub-muscular.

Capsule: one of the characteristics of synovial joints. It is a fibrous connective tissue which forms a band that seals the joint space, provides passive and active stability and may even form articular surfaces for the joint.[5]

Closed pack position: the position where there is the most congruency of the joint surfaces. In this position, joint stability increases. The closed pack position for interphalangeal joints is at full extension.

Degrees of freedom: the direction of joint movement or rotation; there is a maximum of six, including three translations and three rotations.

Ligament: fibrous connective tissue that holds the bones together.

Open (loose) pack position: position with least amount of joint congruency where joint stability is reduced.

Planes of movement: describe how the body moves. Up and down movements (flexion/extension) occur in the sagittal plane. Sideway movements (abduction/adduction) occur in the frontal plane. Movements in the transverse plane are rotational (internal and external rotation).

Foot Structure[edit | edit source]

The anatomical structure of the foot consists of the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot. Each part of the foot is composed of several bones.

Bones and Articulations of the Foot[edit | edit source]

The foot's posterior aspect is called the hindfoot. The midfoot is located between the hindfoot and forefoot. The most anterior aspect of the foot is called the forefoot.

Area of the foot Bones Articulation Characteristics Key palpation points
Hindfoot Talus


Subtalar joint (ST, talocalcaneal joint) Three facets of the talus and the calcaneus are part of the ST joint To findthe calcaneus, palpate distally to the lateral malleolus. It is located directly under the talus.

To locate the head of the talus, find medial and lateral malleoli. Place the thumb on the medial and your index finger on the lateral malleolus and move your fingers anteriorly. You feel a dip located behind the tendon. To verify that you are on the head of the talus, evert the patient's ankle while plantar flexed. You should feel the medial aspect of the head of the talus projecting into your contact.

Midfoot Navicular


Medial cuneiform

Intermediate (middle) cuneiform

Lateral cuneiform

Midtarsal joint (MT, transverse tarsal joint, Chopart's joint) - formed from two smaller joints:

Talocalcaneonavicular (TCN)

Calcaneocuboid (CC)

The MT joint is located between the hindfoot and midfoot.

The navicular articulates with all three cuneiform bones distally. The cuboid bone has a distal articulation with the base of the fourth and fifth metatarsal bones.

To palpate the navicular bone, the patient is supine, leg straight, and foot neutral. Find the bony prominence midway between the calcaneus and the base of the 1st metatarsal. The navicular bone extends in the lateral direction to the third metatarsal.

To palpate the talocalcaneonavicular joint, the patient is supine or sitting. Find navicular bone. Move your finger proximal and lateral to the navicular bone's medial prominence to find the talonavicular joint's dorsal aspect.

To palpate the medial cuneiform, the patient is supine. Start palpating from the great toe along the medial border of the foot until you reach the 1st metatarsal. The base of the 1st metatarsal flares and becomes the 1st cuniform. Move your finger laterally to find the next bony prominence. This is the medial cuneiform bone. The intermediate (second) cuneiform approximates the second metatarsal. To find the lateral (third) cuneiform, palpate the shaft of the third metatarsal towards the ankle until the third metatarsal drops to the third cuneiform.

Forefoot Metatarsals



Tarsometatarsal joint (TMT or Lisfranc joint)

Metatarsophalangeal joints (MTP joints)

Proximal and distal interphalangeal joints (IP joints), except 1st toe (only one IP joint)

Digits 2-5 consist of a metatarsal and three phalanges.

The 1st toe has only two phalanges.

The metatarsals and corresponding phalanges create the forefoot's 5 rays. The joint can be divided in to three columns:

medial column (first metatarsal and medial cuneiform articulation)

the middle column (the second and third metatarsal articulation with intermediate and lateral cuneiform)

the lateral column (the fourth and fifth metatarsal and cuboid articulation).

The TMT joint connects the midfoot with the forefoot. It originates at the lateral, intermediate and medial cuneiforms articulating with the bases of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd metatarsal bones. The bases of the 4th and 5th bones connect with the cuboid bone.

To palpate the shaft of the 5th metatarsal bone, the patient is sitting or supine. The foot is in a relaxed position. Palpate on the lateral side of the foot, superior to the cuboid bone. This is the attachment place for the interphalangeal joints of the foot. Palpate on the lateral side of the foot distal to the cuboid bone to fine the base (styloid process) of the 5th metatarsal bone. To find the head of the 5th metatarsal bone, place the talocrural joint in neutral and the phalanges in extreme extension. Palpate the distal end of the most lateral metatarsal.

To palpate the sesamoids, position the patient supine, foot in the neutral position. Palpate distally along the medial longitudinal arch. Find the base of the 1st metatarsal bone and continue with palpation to the 1st metatarsophalangeal joint.

Foot Kinematics[edit | edit source]

Foot range of motion may vary between individuals based on specific activities that overload of the locomotor system. Foot range of motion is generally higher in women than men in younger age groups, but tends to even out in older adults. Physical activity may also influence gender- and age-related differences in range of motion.[6]

Joint Type of Joint Plane of Movement Motion Kinematics Closed pack position Open pack position
ST joint Condyloid Mainly transverse
Inversion and eversion Average range of motion (ROM) is:

30 degrees inversion / 18 degrees eversion[7]

Full inversion Inversion / plantarflexion
MT joint (Chopart's joint) Talonavicular (TN) joint - Ball and socket

CC joint - Modified saddle    

Largely transverse;    

Some sagittal

Inversion and eversion

Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion [8]

Abduction and adduction[9]

Inversion: approximately 8 to 10 degrees

Eversion: between 2 and 3 degrees

TN: Full supination

CC: Full supination

Midway between extreme range of motion
TMT joint (Lisfranc joint) Plane synovial Saggital Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion The mean ROM ranges from 22.4 to 33.5°.

MTP 5 through 2 show increasing values[10]

Full supination Midway between supination and pronation
MTP joint    Condyloid Sagittal,

some Transverse

Dorsiflexion and plantarflexion

Abduction and adduction

First MTP joint: maximum dorsiflexion ranges from 17 to 62 degrees[11]Adduction ranges from 6 to 11 degrees 1st MTP:


2nd to 5th MTP: Maximum flexion

Slight (10 degrees) extension
IP joint Hinge Saggital Flexion and extension First IP joint:

70 degrees of extension and 45 degrees of flexion

Full extension Slight flexion

Arches of the Foot[edit | edit source]

The foot arches:

  • Support and protect the foot
  • Redistribute pressure during dynamic loading
  • Alter foot flexibility and rigidity

Lateral longitudinal arch: formed by the calcaneus, cuboid and the lateral two metatarsal bones

Medial longitudinal arch: formed by the calcaneus, talus, navicular, three cuneiforms and the medial three metatarsal bones

Transverse arch: runs across the tarsometatarsal joints

Foot Bursae[edit | edit source]

Bursae can be found in multiple locations at the foot: at the metatarsophalangeal joints, the base of the fifth metatarsal, and the back of the heel near the insertion of the Achilles tendon. Read more about bursae pathology here and here.

Ligaments of the Foot[edit | edit source]

The main function of the short and long plantar ligaments and the calcaneonavicular ligament (spring ligament) is to assist in passive arch maintenance.

Key Ligaments Origin Insertion Action/Role Palpation
Plantar Fascia Medial calcaneal tubercle Five metatarsal bones Primary passive plantar tissue that supports the medial longitudinal arch To locate the medial calcaneal tubercle, position the patient prone. Find the heel and come down into the medial aspect of the foot. Palpate the bony prominence.
Plantar calcaneonavicular ligament

(SL, Spring ligament)

Superomedial (SM)

Lateral CN (LCN)

Intermedial CN (ICN)

Anterior sustentaculum tali Navicular

(merges with a portion of the superficial deltoid ligament)

The passive stabiliser of the plantar arch in the talocalcaneal joint.

Assists with preventing talus medial rotation and plantar flexion.

Limits navicular dorsiflexion, eversion, and abduction.

To palpate the sustentaculum tali, position the patient supine, with their foot in neutral. Find the medial malleolus and palpate immediately inferior to the medial malleolus. The rigid structure under your finger is sustentaculum tali; from this point, only soft tissue (fat pad) can be palpated.

To palpate the spring ligament, find the sustentaculum tali and navicular tuberosity. Place your thumbs on each of the bony prominences. In between the thumbs lies the spring ligament. To tighten the ligament, stretch the bones apart.

Calcaneocuboid ligament (CC):

Medial CC (MCC)

Dorsolateral CC (DLCC)

Plantar CC (PCC)(short plantar ligament)

Long plantar ligament (LPL)

DLCC: distal dorsolateral surface of the anterior process of the calcaneus

PCC: anterior tubercle of calcaneus

MCC: lateral band of the bifurcate ligament

LPL: plantar aspect of the calcaneus

DLCC: proximal lateral surface of the cuboid bone

PCC: the plantar surface of the cuboid posterior to the groove for the fibularis longus tendon

LPL: cuboid ridge and basis of the 2nd to 5th metatarsals

Supports the medial and lateral longitudinal arches.

Stabiliser of the calcaneocuboid joint and the midtarsal joint.

The patient is positioned supine to palpate the cuboid bone. The testing leg is internally rotated. Find the 5th metatarsal by palpating along the lateral border of the foot until you find the rounded edge of the tubercle of the 5th metatarsal. Find the calcaneus tubercule. The cuboid bone is located halfway between the tubercule of the 5th metatarsal and the calcaneal tubercule. It may be hard to palpate as extensor digitorum brevis covers it.

The patient is supine to palpate the calcaneocuboid joint. With either hand, place the heel and the anterior portion of the rearfoot between your thumb and index finger. Next, induce varus stress and, with the tip of the thumb, palpate a lateral gap. This is the calcaneocuboid joint.

Lisfranc ligament Lateral side of the medial cuneiform bone Medial side of the base of the second metatarsal bone Maintains the stability of the medial column and axial column of the foot arch

Muscles of the Foot[edit | edit source]

The dorsal muscles of the foot include: extensor digitorum brevis, extensor hallucis brevis

Muscle Origin Insertion Innervation Action
Extensor digitorum brevis Calcaneus and

inferior extensor retinaculum

Long extensor tendons of the medial four toes Deep fibular nerve Extension of the toes 2-5
Extensor hallucis brevis Calcaneus and

inferior extensor retinaculum

Base of the proximal phalanx of the great toe Deep fibular nerve Extension of the 1st toe

The plantar muscles of the foot lie within the central compartment between the muscles of the big and little toe, and they form the central surface of the foot sole:

  • 1st layer: abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis, abductor digiti minimi
  • 2nd layer: quadratus plantae, lumbricals
  • 3rd layer: flexor hallucis brevis, adductor hallucis, flexor digiti minimi brevis
  • 4th layer: plantar and dorsal interossei
Muscle Origin Insertion Innervation Action
Abductor hallucis Medial tubercle of the calcaneus,

the flexor retinaculum and

the plantar aponeurosis

Medial base of the proximal phalanx of the 1st toe Medial plantar nerve (S2,S3) Abduction and flexion of the 1st toe
Flexor digitorum brevis Medial tubercle of the calcaneus and the plantar aponeurosis Middle phalanges of the digits 2-5 Medial plantar nerve (S2,S3) Flexion of the toes 2-5 at the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIP)
Abductor digiti minimi Medial and lateral tubercles of the calcaneus and the plantar aponeurosis Lateral base of the proximal phalanx of the 5th digit Lateral plantar nerve (S1-S3) Abduction and flexion of the 5th toe
Quadratus plantae Calcaneus Tendon of the flexor digitorum longus Lateral plantar nerve (S1-S3) Flexion of the toes 2-5, together with flexor digitorum longus
Lumbricals Tendon of the flexor digitorum longus Medial proximal phalanx and dorsal expansion of the extensor digitorum longus Lumbrical 1: Medial plantar nerve (S2, S3);

Lumbricals 2-4: Lateral plantar nerve (S2-S3)

Flexion at the metatarsophalangeal joints and extension at the interphalangeal joints
Flexor hallucis brevis Lateral head – plantar surfaces of the cuboid and lateral cuneiforms

Medial head – posterior tibialis tendon

The base of the proximal phalanx of the 1st toe Medial plantar nerve (S2,S3) Flexion of the 1st toe at the metatarsophalangeal joint
Adductor hallucis Oblique head – the bases of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th metatarsals

Transverse head – the plantar ligaments of the metatarsophalangeal joints

Lateral aspect of the base of the proximal phalanx of the 1st toe Deep branch of lateral plantar nerve Adduction of the 1st toe

Supports the transverse arch of the foot

Flexor digiti minimi brevis The base of the fifth metatarsal The base of the proximal phalanx of the fifth digit Superficial branch of lateral plantar nerve Flexion of the 5th toe at the metatarsophalangeal joint
Plantar and dorsal interossei Plantar: medial side of metatarsals 3-5

Dorsal: lateral aspect of the metatarsals

Plantar: medial sides of the phalanges of digits 3-5

Dorsal: medial side of the proximal phalanx of the second digit and lateral sides of the proximal phalanxes of digits 2-4

Lateral plantar nerve Plantar: Adduction of the lateral three digits and flexion at the metatarsophalangeal joints

Dorsal: Abduction of the lateral four digits and flexion at the metatarsophalangeal joints

Innervation of the Foot[edit | edit source]

Nerve Origin Branches Motor Fibres Sensory Fibres
Plantar nerve Tibial nerve at the medial malleolus Medial plantar nerve (MPN)

Lateral plantar nerve (LPN)

MPN: abductor hallucis, flexor digitorum brevis, and flexor hallucis brevis muscles.

LPN: abductor and flexor digiti minimi, the adductor hallucis, and the interossei muscles.

MPN: sole innervation, 1st, 2nd and 3rd toes, often 4th toe.

LPN: sole innervation, 5th toe, occasionally 4th toe.

Sural nerve Tibial nerve and cutaneous branches of the common fibular nerve Sural communication and lateral sural cutaneous nerve Sensory innervation for the posterolateral aspect of the distal third of the leg and the lateral aspect of the foot, heel, and ankle

Vascular Supply of the Foot[edit | edit source]

Blood supply to the foot comes primarily from the anterior and posterior tibial arteries and the terminal branches of the popliteal artery.[12]

Artery Origin Branches Supply
Posterior tibial artery Popliteal artery
  • Circumflex fibular artery
  • Nutrient artery
  • Muscular artery
  • Communicating artery
  • Perforating artery
  • Medial malleolar artery Calcaneal artery
  • Medial plantar artery
  • Lateral plantar artery
Muscles of the sole of the foot
Anterior tibial artery Terminal branch of the popliteal artery
  • Posterior and anterior recurrent tibial artery
  • Muscular artery
  • Perforating artery
  • Anterior medial and lateral malleolar arteries
  • Dorsalis pedis artery
Dorsal side of the foot
Medial plantar artery (MPA) and lateral plantar artery (LPA) Posterior tibial artery Plantar arch extending from the 1st to the 5th metatarsal MPA supplies abductor hallucis muscle and flexor digitorum brevis muscle

LPA supplies plantar aponeurosis between flexor digitorum brevis and abductor digiti minimi muscles

Sural artery Popliteal artery Lateral and medial branch Supplies plantaris muscle

Clinical Relevance[edit | edit source]

  1. Knee varus leads to a greater peak hindfoot eversion,[13] and increases foot rigidity.[14]
  2. Dysfunction of the plantar fascia affects the height and shape of the medial longitudinal arch.[15]
  3. Pes planus may be produced by isolated spring ligament injuries.[16] You can learn about orthotic solutions for foot pathologies here.
  4. The calcaneocuboid ligament can be damaged during an inversion injury of the foot.[17]
  5. The transtarsal joint achieves stability through the bony shape, ligament tightness and extrinsic muscles crossing the foot as no intrinsic muscles attach to the talus or calcaneus and insert into the cuboid or navicular bones. This may be the cause of this joint's frequent hypermobility.[18]
  6. Hammer and claw toe deformities can be prevented with strong action of the interossei and lumbricals.
  7. Increased tissue stiffness in gastrocnemius and hamstrings muscles can lead to plantar fasciitis, and calf muscle stretching can help solve this problem.[19] This Plus programme discusses a new protocol for plantar heel pain syndrome.
  8. Acute or chronic tears in the plantar fascia can be diagnosed by palpation of a painful lump on the sole of the foot.[20] You can learn about the assessment of plantar heel pain here.
  9. Gait pathology can result from decreased range of motion of the ankle and first metatarsophalangeal joints, which leads to limitation in joint mobility (LJM) of the foot joints.[21] Learn more about lower leg and foot regional pain and gait deviations here.
  10. "Obese individuals exhibit flatter feet, reduced inversion–eversion range of motion, and higher peak plantar pressures when walking".[22]

Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Farris DJ, Kelly LA, Cresswell AG, Lichtwark GA. The functional importance of human foot muscles for bipedal locomotion. PNAS 2019; 116(5).
  2. Viseux FJF. The sensory role of the sole of the foot: Review and update on clinical perspectives. Neurophysiol Clin. 2020 Feb;50(1):55-68.
  3. Lee SW, Le PU, Van Dien C, Hansen M, Tiu T. Evaluation of Resident Palpation Skills in Foot and Ankle Anatomic Structures Using Bedside Ultrasound. HCA Healthcare Journal of Medicine 2020; 1(3).
  4. Kitagawa T, Aoki Y, Sugimoto H, Ozaki N. Randomised controlled trial for evaluation of an ultrasound-guided palpation intervention for palpation skill training. Sci Rep. 2022 Jan 24;12(1):1189.
  5. Ralphs JR, Benjamin M. The joint capsule: structure, composition, ageing and disease. J Anat. 1994 Jun;184 ( Pt 3)(Pt 3):503-9.
  6. Nigg BM, Fisher V, Allinger TL, Ronsky JR, Engsberg JR. Range of motion of the foot as a function of age. Foot Ankle. 1992 Jul-Aug;13(6):336-43.
  7. Ball P, Johnson GR. Technique for measuring hindfoot inversion and eversion and its use to study a normal population. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 1996 Apr;11(3):165-169.
  8. A Salih, Demirbüken I. Chapter 23 - Ankle and foot complex. Editor(s): Salih Angin, Ibrahim Engin Şimşek. Comparative Kinesiology of the Human Body, Academic Press 2020: pp 411-439.
  9. Walter WR, Hirschmann A, Tafur M, Rosenberg ZS. Imaging of Chopart (Midtarsal) Joint Complex: Normal Anatomy and Posttraumatic Findings. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2018 Aug;211(2):416-425.
  10. Oosterwaal M, Carbes S, Telfer S, Woodburn J, Tørholm S, Al-Munajjed AA, van Rhijn L, Meijer K. The Glasgow-Maastricht foot model, evaluation of a 26 segment kinematic model of the foot. J Foot Ankle Res. 2016 Jul 8;9:19.
  11. Allan JJ, McClelland JA, Munteanu SE, Buldt AK, Landorf KB, Roddy E, Auhl M, Menz HB. First metatarsophalangeal joint range of motion is associated with lower limb kinematics in individuals with first metatarsophalangeal joint osteoarthritis. J Foot Ankle Res. 2020 Jun 8;13(1):33.
  12. Attinger CE, Evans KK, Bulan E, Blume P, Cooper P. Angiosomes of the foot and ankle and clinical implications for limb salvage: reconstruction, incisions, and revascularization. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2006 Jun;117(7 Suppl):261S-293S.
  13. Barrios JA, Davis IS, Higginson JS, Royer TD. Lower extremity walking mechanics of young individuals with asymptomatic varus knee alignment. J Orthop Res. 2009 Nov;27(11):1414-9.
  14. Arnold J, Mackintosh S, Jones S, Thewlis D. Altered dynamic foot kinematics in people with medial knee osteoarthritis during walking: a cross-sectional study. Knee. 2014 Dec;21(6):1101-6.
  15. Peng Y, Wai-Chi Wong D, Wang Y, Lin-Wei Chen T, Zhang G, Yan F, Zhang M.Computational models of flatfoot with three-dimensional fascia and bulk soft tissue interaction for orthosis design. Medicine in Novel Technology and Devices,2021;9.
  16. Casado-Hernández I, Becerro-de-Bengoa-Vallejo R, Losa-Iglesias ME, Santiago-Nuño F, Mazoteras-Pardo V, López-López D, Rodríguez-Sanz D, Calvo-Lobo C. Association between anterior talofibular ligament injury and ankle tendon, ligament, and joint conditions revealed by magnetic resonance imaging. Quant Imaging Med Surg. 2021 Jan;11(1):84-94.
  17. Edama M, Takabayashi T, Yokota H. et al. Morphological characteristics of the plantar calcaneocuboid ligaments. J Foot Ankle Res 2021; 14 (3).
  18. Hastings MK. Movement system syndromes of the foot and ankle. In:Sahrmann S and Associates. Movement system impairment syndromes of the extremities, cervical and thoracic spine St.Louis, MO (USA): Elsevier Mosby; 2011:p.439-482
  19. Wilke J, Schleip R, Yucesoy CA, Banzer W. Not merely a protective packing organ? A review of fascia and its force transmission capacity. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2018 Jan 1;124(1):234-44.
  20. Bourne M, Talkad A, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Foot Fascia. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL); 2022.
  21. Matsui N, Shoji M, Kitagawa T, Terada S. Factors affecting the range of motion of the ankle and first metatarsophalangeal joints in patients undergoing hemodialysis who walk daily. J Phys Ther Sci. 2016 May;28(5):1560-4.
  22. Butterworth PA, Urquhart DM, Landorf KB, Wluka AE, Cicuttini FM, Menz HB. Foot posture, range of motion and plantar pressure characteristics in obese and non-obese individuals. Gait Posture. 2015 Feb;41(2):465-9.