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Metatarsal Bones

The metatarsus of the foot consists of five long bones, which are called the metatarsals. Like the metacarpals of the hand, the metatarsals are comprised of a proximal base, a shaft and a distal head.

Along with the tarsals, the metatarsals help form the arches of the foot, which are essential in both weight bearing and walking.

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Bones and ligaments of the foot.


Tarsometatarsal Joints

The metatarsals connect the ankle with the toes. They are named I to V medially to laterally, from the dorsal surface of the foot. The metatarsal bones are convex on their dorsal surfaces but concave on their plantar surfaces. The proximal base articulates with one or more of the distal tarsal bones; namely the cuboid and the cuneiform bones. These articulations are known as the tarsometatarsal joints.

Metatarsophalangeal Joints

The distal heads articulate with their corresponding proximal phalanx to form the metatarsophalangeal joints. The head of metatarsal I also articulates with two sesamoid bones on the plantar surface of the foot.

Intermetatarsal Joints

In addition, the bases of the metatarsals articulate with each other to form intermetatarsal joints. The smooth areas on the metatarsals that articulate with other bones are known as articular facets.

Metatarsal bones - lateral view

Metatarsal bones - lateral view


First Metatarsal

The first metatarsal is the thickest and shortest of the metatarsals. At the base there are normally no facets but sometimes there is a facet laterally, where it articulates with the second metatarsal. Proximally, it articulates with the medial cuneiform at the base. Here, there is a tuberosity medially. The shaft is strong and a prismoid shape. Distally, there are two grooved facets where the two sesamoid bones articulate on the dorsal surface. It also articulates distally with the 1st proximal phalanx.

First metatarsal bone - ventral view

First metatarsal bone - ventral view

The muscle attachments of the first metatarsal are the following:

Second Metatarsal

The second metatarsal is the longest of the metatarsals and has four articular facets at its base. These articulate with the medial, intermediate and lateral cuneiforms as well as the third metatarsal. Occasionally there is a medial facet at the base, which articulates with the first metatarsal. Distally, it articulates with the 2nd proximal phalanx.

Second metatarsal bone - ventral view

Second metatarsal bone - ventral view

The muscle attachments of the second metatarsal are the following:

  • Medial shaft – 1st dorsal interosseus
  • Lateral shaft – 2nd dorsal interosseus

Third Metatarsal

The third metatarsal has a triangular base, which articulates proximally with the lateral cuneiform. Medially it has two facets where it articulates with the second metatarsal and laterally it articulates with the fourth metatarsal by a single facet. The head articulates with the 3rd proximal phalanx.

Third metatarsal bone - ventral view

Third metatarsal bone - ventral view

The muscle attachments of the third metatarsal are the following:

  • Medial shaft – 2nd dorsal interosseus and 1st plantar interosseus
  • Lateral shaft – 3rd dorsal interosseus

Fourth Metatarsal

The fourth metatarsal is smaller than the third and has 3 articular facets at its base. Proximally, it has a quadrilateral facet, which articulates with the cuboid. There is an oval facet medially which articulates with the third metatarsal and there is another single facet on the lateral surface for articulation of the fifth metatarsal. Distally, the head articulates with the 4th proximal phalanx.

Fourth metatarsal bone - ventral view

Fourth metatarsal bone - ventral view

The muscle attachments of the fourth metatarsal are the following:

  • Medial shaft – 3rd dorsal interosseus and 2nd plantar interosseus
  • Lateral shaft – 4th dorsal interosseus

Fifth Metatarsal

The fifth metatarsal has a tuberosity lateral to the base, which can be both seen and felt on the lateral border of the foot. The base articulates with the cuboid proximally by a triangular surface and medially with the fourth metatarsal. Its head also articulates with the 5th proximal phalanx.

Fifth metatarsal bone - ventral view

Fifth metatarsal bone - ventral view

The muscle attachments of the fifth metatarsal are the following:

  • Dorsal base – fibularis tertius
  • Tuberosity – fibularis brevis
  • Plantar base – flexor digiti minimi brevis
  • Medial shaft – 4th dorsal interosseus and 3rd plantar interosseus


Along with the calcaneus, the metatarsals are involved in supporting the weight of the body. The metatarsus has 5 main points of contact with the ground:

  • The 1st metatarsal head and two sesamoid bones
  • The 2nd metatarsal head
  • The 3rd metatarsal head
  • The 4th metatarsal head
  • The 5th metatarsal head

The majority of the load is supported by the thicker 1st metatarsal, with the 2nd-5th metatarsals providing balance and comfort.

Clinical Notes


Fractures of the metatarsals are uncommon but occur when a heavy object falls or rolls over the foot. These fractures can also occur in ballet dancers when they lose balance whilst on the tips of their toes. This results in the metatarsals supporting the whole body weight, which may cause a fracture of one or more of the metatarsals.


Gout is an inflammatory arthritis characterised by high levels of uric acid in the blood and crystal deposits in the joints and surrounding tissues. The metatarsophalangeal joint of the great toe is often the first joint affected by gout. Gout can cause tenderness and oedema in this joint. When this joint is affected, it is referred to as podagra. Osteoarthritis can also cause severe pain in this joint.

Hallux Valgus

Hallux valgus is a foot deformity characterised by medial deviation of the 1st metatarsal and deviation of the great toe (hallux) laterally. It is often caused by degenerative joint disease or by pressure from footwear. More commonly occurring in females, hallux valgus causes the 1st metatarsal to shift medially and the sesamoid bones to shift laterally. This results in the sesamoid bones lying between the heads of the 1st and 2nd metatarsals. When the surrounding tissues swell, a subcutaneous bursa can form. When this bursa is inflamed this can cause great pain. A painful hallux valgus deformity is referred to as a bunion.

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Show references


  • G.J. Tortora, M.T. Nielsen: Principles Of Human Anatomy, 12th Edition, John Wiley (2012), p. 257-8. 
  • K.L. Moore, A.F. Dalley, A.M.R. Agur: Clinically Oriented Anatomy, 7th Edition, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health (2014), p. 656-6, 667. 
  • S. Standring: Gray’s Anatomy The Anatomical Basis Of Clinical Practice, 40th Edition, Elsevier Health Sciences UK (2008), p. 1439-50.
  • R.L. Drake, A. Wayne, A.W.M. Mitchell: Gray’s Anatomy For Students, 2nd Edition, Churchill Livingstone (2010), p.843-4.

Author, Review and Layout:

  • Charlotte O'Leary
  • Latitia Kench
  • Catarina Chaves


  • Metatarsal Bones (green) - lateral view - Liene Znotina
  • First metatarsal bone - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Second metatarsal bone - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Third metatarsal bone - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Fourth metatarsal bone - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Fifth metatarsal bone - ventral view - Liene Znotina
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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Bones of the foot

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Main bones of the lower extremity

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