Foot and Ankle Anatomy

Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board

Foot and Ankle Anatomy Guide: Muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones

Foot and ankle anatomy is quite complex. The foot consists of thirty three bones, twenty six joints and over a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons. 

These all work together to bear weight, allow movement and provide a stable base for us to stand and move on.

The foot needs to be strong and stable to support us yet flexible to allow all sorts of complex movements with activities such as walking, running, jumping and kicking. 

Here, you will find an overview of the different structures that make up the various aspects of foot anatomy, how they fit together and what can go wrong. To find out more about each one, visit the relevant section.

1. Foot Bones

When thinking about foot and ankle anatomy, we usually divide the foot bones into three categories: the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot. 

When thinking about foot and ankle anatomy, the foot is commonly divided into three sections: the forefoot, midfoot and hindfoot
  • The Hindfoot: the hindfoot comprises of the ankle joint found at the bottom of the leg and is where the end of the tibia and fibula meet the ankle bone known as the talus. It also includes the heel bone, known as the calcaneus.

  • The Midfoot: The five bones of the midfoot are what make up our foot arches. They are arranged in a pyramid shape to be the shock absorbers of the feet. There is the navicular, cuboid and three cuneiform bones in the midfoot.

  • The Forefoot: There are nineteen bones in the forefoot. The five metatarsals connect the midfoot to the toes and fourteen phalanges make up the toes themselves.

Common problems that arise in the foot bones include: 

  • Stress Fractures: small breaks in the bone usually from repetitive overloading in sports
  • Hammer, Mallet & Claw Toe: Deformities at the toe joints that put the toes out of alignment. Affects 10-15% of the population
  • Turf Toe: Hyperextension injury of the big toe - common in athletes. Also known as a toe joint sprain
  • Bone Spurs: Excess bone growth in response to injuries, soft tissue tension or repetitive friction causing a hard lump
  • Bunions: Gradually increasing deviation of the big or little toe, usually from tight-footwear that results in a large, painful lump on the side of the toe

Any damage that occurs to the foot and ankle bones is likely to affect any activity when you are on your feet and can cause issues further up the leg.

For more information, see the dedicated page about foot bones.

2. Foot Muscles

Another important part of foot anatomy is the muscles. There are more than twenty muscles in the foot and they are commonly divided into two groups:

Intrinsic muscles on the sole of the foot
  • The Intrinsics: The muscles that originate in the foot itself, on either the top (dorsum) or base (plantar) aspect of the foot
  • The Extrinsics: The muscles that originate from the front and back of the lower leg and attach into the foot such as the calf muscles, gastrocnemius and soleus.

Muscles work in pairs, simultaneously contracting (shortening) and relaxing (lengthening) to allow controlled movement. They are arranged in layers and are responsible for maintaining the correct shape of the foot for example the foot arches. The muscles attach to the foot bones via tendons.

The most common problem affecting the foot muscles is tendonitis, where there is inflammation and degeneration of the tendons, the cord part of the muscle where it attaches to the bone.  Find out more in the foot tendonitis section.

Weakness and tightness in the calf and foot muscles not only cause foot pain but are also a common cause of knee, hip and back pain. Stretches and strengthening exercises can make a big difference.

3. Foot & Ankle Ligaments

Ankle ligaments help provide stability around the ankle and foot

Ligaments are strong, thick fibrous bands that connect bone to bone and hold them together. They are a really important part of foot and ankle anatomy as they are the primary stabilisers of the ankle. 

There are eleven ligaments around the ankle, connecting the various different bones of the hindfoot and midfoot. They work together to control all the different movements in the foot and ankle.

The most common ankle ligament injury is a ligament sprain, most commonly of the lateral ligament, aka anterior talofibular ligament. If an ankle sprain is not treated properly, it can cause long-term pain and instability in the ankle and foot as well as secondary problems such as cuboid syndrome which often goes undiagnosed.

4. Foot & Ankle Tendons

Tendons are the thick cord-like structures that attach muscles to bone. They transmit the force from the muscle to the bone causing the joint to move. They also help provide some stability to the foot.

If the ankle tendons are overloaded or overstretched they may become inflamed or even tear leading to tendonitis, tendonosis or rupture. The location of the pain will depend on which tendon is damaged.

The main tendons that are affected by foot tendonitis are:

Find out more about the common causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of these different types of foot tendonitis or how the tendons fit in with foot and ankle anatomy.

Ankle Joints

There are two joints that make up ankle anatomy:

  • Ankle Joint: A synovial hinge joint between the tibia, fibula and talus bones. Allows the up and down movement at the ankle
  • Subtalar Joint: A synovial plane joint between the talus and the calcaneus bones. Allows the side to side movement at the ankle.

There are then numerous joints between the different foot bones, held together by various ligaments.

Find Out More About Ankle Anatomy

You can find out more about the different structures in foot and ankle anatomy, including what happens when the various structures are injured, by using the links above. 

Alternatively, if you want help working out what is causing your pain, visit the foot pain diagnosis section.

Bones   |   Muscles   |   Tendons   |   Ligaments  

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Page Last Updated: 09/29/22
Next Review Due: 09/29/24