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Ankle and foot anatomy: want to learn more about it?

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Ankle and foot anatomy

Ankle and foot (left lateral view)

If you’ve watched a documentary film about primates likes chimps or orangutans you may have thought how useful it would be if we could use our feet the same way we use our hands. Then we could underline our anatomy textbook with our hands, and make flashcards with our feet at the same time.

But, evolution has refined our feet to be compatible with walking bipedally. This is why the anatomy of the foot might roughly resemble the anatomy of the hand but is still different enough to have different functions. Thus, this page is dedicated to the anatomy of the ankle and foot.

Key facts about the ankle and foot
Ankle anatomy Movements: dorsiflexion, plantar flexion
Upper ankle joint: inferior surfaces of tibia and fibula, superior surface of talus
Lower ankle joint: talus, calcaneus, navicular bones
Ankle ligaments: medial collateral ligament, deltoid ligament, lateral collateral ligament
Bones of the foot Tarsals: proximal (talus, calcaneus), intermediate (navicular), distal (cuboid, cuneiforms) bones
- Mnemonic for tarsals: Tiger Cubs Need MILC
Metatarsals
: connect the tarsals and phalanges
Phalanges
: great toe consists of two phalanges (proximal, distal), the remaining four toes have three phalanges (proximal, middle, distal)
Joints of the foot Intertarsal: subtalar (talocalcaneal), talocalcaneonavicular, calcaneocuboid, cuneonavicular, cuboideonavicular, intercuneiform joints
Tarsometatarsal: articulations between the tarsals and metatarsals
Metatarsophalangeal: connect the metatarsals with the proximal phalanges
Interphalangeal: great toe has one interphalangeal joint, other four toes have a two (proximal, distal) interphalangeal joints
Muscles of the foot Movements: foot inversion, foot eversion, toe flexion, toe extension, toe abduction, toe adduction
Dorsal muscles: extensor digitorum brevis, extensor hallucis brevis
Lateral plantar muscles: abductor digiti minimi, flexor digiti minimi brevis, opponens digiti minimi
Central plantar muscles: flexor digitorum brevis, quadratus plantae, lumbricals, plantar interossei, dorsal interossei
Medial plantar muscles: abductor hallucis, adductor hallucis, flexor hallucis brevis

Ankle anatomy

The ankle joint, also known as the talocrural joint, allows dorsiflexion and plantar flexion of the foot. It is made up of three joints: upper ankle joint (tibiotarsal), talocalcaneonavicular, and subtalar joints. The last two together are called the lower ankle joint.

The upper ankle joint is formed by the inferior surfaces of tibia and fibula, and the superior surface of talus. The lower ankle joint is formed by the talus, calcaneus, and navicular bone. The joint is supported by a set of ankle ligaments: the medial collateral or deltoid ligament, and lateral collateral ligament.


We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about the ankle joint and its ligaments with these study units:

Bones of the foot

There are 26 bones in the foot, divided into three groups:

  • Seven tarsal bones
  • Five metatarsal bones
  • Fourteen phalanges

Bones and ligaments of the foot diagram.
Bones and ligaments of the foot (diagram)

Tarsals make up a strong weight bearing platform. They are homologous to the carpals in the wrist and are divided into three groups: proximal, intermediate, and distal. 

Learn the bones of the foot in half the time with these interactive quizzes and labeling activities!

A useful mnemonic in order to remember the tarsal bones is the following:

Tiger Cubs Need MILC

  • Talus
  • Calcaneus
  • Navicular
  • Medial cuneiform
  • Intermediate cuneiform
  • Lateral cuneiform
  • Cuboid

The easiest way to learn all about the tarsal bones is to review them one by one. You can do that with our additional resources:

Metatarsals are homologous to the metacarpals​​​​​​​ of the hand. They are involved in supporting body weight. On the plantar surface of the head of the 1st metatarsal, we see two prominent sesamoid bones (a medial and a lateral one). 

Phalanges also parallel the hand, the lateral four toes are made up of three phalanges (proximal, middle, and distal). Whilst the great toe (hallux) is comprised of only two phalanges (proximal and distal).

We encourage you to take a look at our study materials to find out more about the bones of the foot and foot ligaments.

Joints of the foot

Besides the ankle joint which connects the foot with the leg, the bones of the foot articulate among themselves through many synovial joints. There are four groups of foot joints: intertarsal, tarsometatarsal, metatarsophalangeal, and interphalangeal. 

  • The intertarsal joints are between the tarsal bones. These joints are the subtalar (talocalcaneal), talocalcaneonavicular, calcaneocuboid, cuneonavicular, cuboideonavicular, and intercuneiform joints. 
  • Tarsometatarsal joints are the articulations between the tarsals and metatarsals.
  • Metatarsophalangeal joints (MTP) are the joints between the heads of metatarsals and corresponding bases of the proximal phalanges of the foot. 
  • Interphalangeal joints are between the phalanges of the foot. The great toe has only one interphalangeal joint, while the other four toes have a proximal (PIP) and a distal (DIP) interphalangeal joint.

Muscles of the foot

Foot muscles contribute to eversion and inversion of foot, movements of the toes, as well as plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. We encourage you to go through this study unit to learn all about the foot muscles.

The foot muscles are divided into plantar and dorsal groups. There are only two muscles in the dorsal group, while the plantar muscles are further subdivided into three groups; lateral, central, and medial. 

Muscles of the foot (overview)

The dorsal foot muscles are in the dorsum of foot and they extend the toes. They are the extensor digitorum brevis and extensor hallucis brevis muscles.

Key facts about the dorsal foot muscles
Extensor digitorum brevis Origin: Superolateral surface of calcaneus bone
Insertion: Middle phalanges of toes 2-4
Innervation: Deep fibular/peroneal nerve (S1, S2)
Function: Distal interphalangeal joints 2-4: Toe extension
Extensor hallucis brevis Origin: Superolateral surface of calcaneus bone
Insertion: Proximal phalanx of great toe
Innervation: Deep fibular/peroneal nerve (S1, S2)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 1: Toe extension

The plantar foot muscles are divided into three groups of muscles by the deep fasciae of the foot: lateral, central, and medial. Note that plantar muscles can also be studied as four layers, but here they are presented as groups.

The lateral plantar muscles act upon the fifth toe. They are the abductor digiti minimi, flexor digiti minimi brevis, and opponens digiti minimi muscles. 

Key facts about the lateral plantar muscles
Abductor digiti minimi Origin: Calcaneal tuberosity, Plantar aponeurosis
Insertion: Base of proximal phalanx of digit 5, Metatarsal bone 5
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S1- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 5: Toe abduction, Toe flexion; Supports longitudinal arch of foot
Flexor digiti minimi brevis Origin: Base of metatarsal bone 5, Long plantar ligament
Insertion: Base of proximal phalanx of digit 5
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S2- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 5: Toe flexion
Opponens digiti minimi Origin: Long plantar ligament, Base of metatarsal bone 5, Tendon sheath of fibularis longus
Insertion: Lateral border of metatarsal bone 5
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S2- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 5: Toe abduction, Toe flexion

Central plantar muscles act upon the lateral four toes. They are the flexor digitorum brevis, quadratus plantae, four lumbricals, three plantar interossei, and four dorsal interossei muscles.

Key facts about the central plantar muscles
Flexor digitorum brevis Origin: Medial process of calcaneal tuberosity, Plantar aponeurosis
Insertion: Middle phalanges of digits 2-5
Innervation: Medial plantar nerve (S1- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joints 2-5: Toe flexion; Supports longitudinal arch of foot
Quadratus plantae Origin: Medial surface of calcaneus bone, Lateral process of calcaneal tuberosity
Insertion: Tendon of flexor digitorum longus
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S1- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joints 2-5: Toe flexion
Lumbricals Origin: Tendons of flexor digitorum longus
Insertion: Medial bases of proximal phalanges and dorsal aponeurosis of digits 2-5
Innervation: Lumbrical 1: Medial plantar nerve (S2,S3); Lumbricals 2-4: Lateral plantar nerve (S2-S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joints 2-5: Toe flexion, Toes adduction; Interphalangeal joints 2-5: Toes extension
Plantar interossei Origin: Medial aspects of metatarsal bones 3-5
Insertion: Medial bases of proximal phalanges of digits 3-5
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S2- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joints 3-5: Toe flexion, Toes adduction; Interphalangeal joints 3-5: Toes extension
Dorsal interossei Origin: Opposing sides of metatarsal bones 1-5
Insertion: Medial base of proximal phalanx of digit 2, Lateral bases of proximal phalanges and dorsal aponeurosis of digits 2-4
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S2- S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joints 2-4: Toe flexion, Toe abduction; Interphalangeal joints 2-4: Toe extension

Medial plantar muscles act upon the great toe, or hallux. They are the abductor hallucis, adductor hallucis, and flexor hallucis brevis muscles. Note that adductor hallucis is anatomically located in the central compartment of foot, but it is functionally grouped with the medial plantar muscles due to its actions on the great toe (hallux).

Key facts about the medial plantar muscles
Abductor hallucis muscle Origin: Medial process of calcaneal tuberosity, Flexor retinaculum, Plantar aponeurosis
Insertion: Base of proximal phalanx of great toe
Innervation: Medial plantar nerve (S1, S2, S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 1: Toe abduction, Toe flexion; Support of longitudinal arch of foot
Adductor hallucis muscle Origin
- Oblique head: bases metatarsal bones 2-4, Cuboid bone, Lateral cuneiform bone
- Transverse head: plantar metatarsophalangeal ligaments of toes 3-5
Insertion: Lateral aspect of base of proximal phalanx of great toe
Innervation: Lateral plantar nerve (S2,S3)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 1: Toe adduction, Toe flexion; Support of longitudinal and transverse arches of foot
Flexor hallucis brevis muscle Origin: Tendon of tibialis posterior, Medial cuneiform bone, Lateral cuneiform bone, Cuboid bone
Insertion: Lateral and medial aspects of base of promixal phalanx of great toe
Innervation: Medial plantar nerve (S1,S2)
Function: Metatarsophalangeal joint 1: Toe flexion; Support of longitudinal arch of foot

Note that tendons in the foot are protected with tendon sheaths. We can help you with both tendons sheaths and with medial plantar muscles.


Check out these study resources:

To master all lower limb muscles, check out this muscle anatomy reference chart with high-quality illustrations. It provides a quick reference to lower limb muscle origins, insertions, innervations and functions.

What's the best way of learning anatomy? Repetition for sure. And how to make repetition interesting? With Kenhub custom quizzes! Test your knowledge about the ankle and foot anatomy with our quiz specially designed to aim the bones, ligaments, joints, muscles and neurovasculature of this region.

This custom quiz tests your knowledge about the ankle and foot. It specifically focuses on bones, ligaments, and muscles (including attachments, innervation, functions). Have a go to conquer the anatomy of the ankle and foot!

Ankle and foot anatomy: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

What do you prefer to learn with?

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!