German Contact How to study Login Register

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!

Sidebar ebook trimmed

Phalanges of the Foot

The phalanges are long bones in the foot located distal to the metatarsals. Like in the hand, each toe consists of three phalanges, which are named the proximal, middle and distal phalanges. However, the hallux (great toe) only has two phalanges, a proximal and a distal one. Occasionally, there are only two phalanges in the little toe.

The phalanges consist of a proximal base, a shaft and a distal head. This article will cover the anatomy of the phalanges of the foot, including muscle attachments, supply and ossification, followed by any relevant clinical pathology.

Recommended video: Bones of the foot
Bones and ligaments of the foot.



The phalanges in the foot are much shorter than those in the hand, and their total length is also much shorter than the metatarsals. The bases of the proximal phalanges articulate with the heads of the associated metatarsal bones to form the metatarsophalangeal joints.

The heads of the proximal phalanges articulate with the bases of the middle phalanges to form the proximal interphalangeal joints. The distal interphalangeal joints are formed by the articulations between the heads of the middle phalanges and the bases of the distal phalanges. These hinge joints allow flexion and extension and are reinforced by plantar ligaments, as well as by medial and lateral collateral ligaments.


The bases of the proximal phalanges are concave to allow for articulation with the metatarsal heads, whilst the heads are trochlear, or pulley shaped. Like the metatarsals, the shafts of the proximal phalanges are convex dorsally but concave on their plantar aspect.

Proximal phalanges of the foot - caudal view

Proximal phalanges of the foot - caudal view

The small, middle phalanges are broader than their proximal counterparts.

The distal phalanges are flatter and smaller than the ones in the hand. They consist of a broad base for articulation with the middle phalanges as well as a non-articular head. A rough, crescent shaped tuberosity is present on the plantar surface of the heads, which supports the pads or pulps of the toes.

Distal phalanges of the foot - caudal view

Distal phalanges of the foot - caudal view

Muscle Attachments

Proximal Phalanges

Many muscles of the foot attach to the phalanges. The muscles that attach to the proximal phalanges include:

  • Lumbricals – medial aspect of the four lateral phalanges
  • Interossei – both sides of the second, third and fourth proximal phalanges

Middle Phalanges

Muscles that attach to the middle phalanges include:

  • Flexor digitorum brevis – plantar aspect of the base
  • Extensor digitorum brevis – dorsal aspect of the base

Distal Phalanges

Two muscles attach to the distal phalange of the hallux:

  • Flexor hallucis longus – plantar aspect of the base
  • Extensor hallucis longus – plantar aspect of the base

Muscles that attach to the four lateral distal phalanges include:

  • Flexor digitorum longus – plantar aspect of the base
  • Extensor digitorum longus – plantar aspect of the base

Blood Supply

The dorsal digital arteries supply the proximal and middle phalanges. The middle phalanges also receive blood supply from the plantar digital arteries. These arteries also supply the distal phalanges.


The dorsal and plantar digital nerves innervate all of the phalangeal bones.

Proper plantar digital nerves - caudal view

Proper plantar digital nerves - caudal view


Ossification is a bone remodelling process where new bone is laid down by osteoblasts, cells involved in synthesising bone. It is an important process in bone development and involves transforming cartilage into bone. The location where ossification begins is referred to as the ossification centre.

The ossification centres for the distal phalanges are the first to appear, between the 9th and 12th week of development. This is followed by appearance of the ossification centres for the proximal phalanges between the 11th and 15th weeks of development. The development of the middle phalanges usually occurs soon after their proximal counterparts.

Clinical Notes

Claw Toe

Deformities of the toes can cause disabling pain and almost always occur in the lateral four toes. Claw toe is a deformity that results in dorsiflexion of the metacarpophalangeal, proximal interphalangeal and distal interphalangeal joints. This deformity is more common in women and in the elderly. Claw toe can occur in conjunction with some neuromuscular diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. It can also be seen in metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus as well as in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Hammertoe Deformity

The most common deformity seen in the distal four toes is a hammertoe deformity. Ill-fitting shoes are usually the cause of this deformity and this results in a flexion deformity of the proximal interphalangeal joint, as well as hyperextension of the metatarsophalangeal and distal interphalangeal joints. Adequate treatment methods for this condition include taping the toe as well as wearing appropriate footwear. However, if there is still disabling pain after these methods, surgical correction may be indicated.

Mallet Toe

A flexion deformity of the distal interphalangeal joint is referred to as a mallet toe. This condition may be caused by trauma or inappropriate footwear, and can lead to the formation of calluses and nail deformities. Non-operative treatment can involve orthotics or toe protectors.


Fractures of the toe most commonly occur in the fifth toe and can occur in conjunction with toe dislocation. These fractures often occur distal to the metacarpophalangeal joint and are usually caused by trauma such as from a falling object or from stubbing your toe.

Get me the rest of this article for free
Create your account and you'll be able to see the rest of this article, plus videos and a quiz to help you memorize the information, all for free. You'll also get access to articles, videos, and quizzes about dozens of other anatomy systems.
Create your free account ➞
Show references


  • A. Watson: Hammertoe Deformity. Medscape. (accessed 05/06/2015)
  • C. Brown: Mallet Toe. Medscape. (accessed 05/06/2015)
  • Insall Scott Kelly Institute: Broken Toe. (accessed 05/06/2015)
  • J.K. DeOrio: Claw Toe. Medscape. (accessed 05/06/2015)
  • S. Standring: Gray’s Anatomy The Anatomical Basis Of Clinical Practice, 40th Edition, Elsevier Health Sciences UK (2008), p. 2626.

Author, Review and Layout:

  • Charlotte O'Leary
  • Ryan Sixtus
  • Catarina Chaves


  • Proximal phalanges of the foot - caudal view - Liene Znotina
  • Distal phalanges of the foot - caudal view - Liene Znotina
  • Proper plantar digital nerves - caudal 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.

Related Atlas Images

Bones of the foot

Main bones of the lower extremity

Continue your learning

Article (You are here)
Other articles
Well done!

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!

Sidebar ebook trimmed
Create your free account.
Start learning anatomy in less than 60 seconds.