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.
When thinking about foot and ankle anatomy, we usually divide the foot bones into three categories: the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot.
For more information, see the dedicated page about foot bones.
Common problems that arise in the foot bones include stress fractures, hammertoe, turf toe, bone spurs and bunions. 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.
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:
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.
Ligaments are strong, thick fibrous bands that connect bone to bone and hold them together. They are a really important part of 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.
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.
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,
Page Last Updated: 01/12/20
Next Review Due: 01/12/22