Foot and ankle anatomy consists of 33 bones, 26 joints and over a hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons.
This complex network of structures fit and 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.
There are lots of things that can go wrong with the foot causing problems such as pain, weakness and instability.
When thinking about ankle anatomy, it helps to think about each of the different structures, how they fit together and what can go wrong. The main structures around the foot and ankle are:
Let's have a look at each of these different elements of foot and ankle anatomy, how they fit together and what can go wrong.
When thinking about foot and ankle anatomy, we usually divide the foot bones into three categories: the hindfoot, midfoot and forefoot.
Common problems that arise in the foot bones include:
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 about the different bones and joints and how they work together, visit the foot bones section.
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. One muscle relaxes and lengthens while the other contracts and shortens,. This allows smooth, controlled movement. The muscles are arranged in layers and are responsible for maintaining the correct shape of the foot for example the foot arches. They attach to the foot bones via tendons.
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.
The most common problem affecting the foot muscles is tendonitis. This is 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.
Another important part of foot and ankle anatomy are the ligaments.
Ligaments are strong, thick fibrous bands that connect bone to bone and hold them together. They are extremely important as they are the primary stabilizers 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.
Another important part of foot and ankle anatomy are the 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. So as the muscle contracts, it pulls on the tendon, which in turn pulls on the bone to move the joint. Tendons 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:
There are two joints that make up ankle anatomy:
There are then numerous joints between the different foot bones, held together by various ligaments.
Ankle anatomy allows a great deal of movement of the foot in different directions. The main movements of the foot are:
Each of these movements is controlled by a complex combination of activity in the muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons.
There are lots of different things that can go wrong with ankle anatomy that can cause foot problems. There may be weakness or tightness in the muscles, inflammation or degeneration in the tendons, damage or wear and tear to the bones.
Common foot and ankle problems include:
If you want help working out what is causing your pain, visit the foot pain diagnosis section.
You may also be interested in the following articles:
If you want to find out more information about foot and ankle anatomy, continue through the following articles:
Page Last Updated: 05/03/23
Next Review Due: 05/03/23