Anatomy & Organs

Feet – structure, function & diseases


The function of the feet is just as often underestimated as the diseases that can affect them. With evolution, the feet have anatomically adapted to walking upright. Studies show that human foot shapes vary by region and country.

What are the feet

The Latin term for feet is “pes”. They designate the mobile units in terrestrial vertebrates and humans, located at the end of the lower part of the leg. The feet consist of the tarsus, metatarsal and five toes.

Anatomically, they are very complex due to evolutionary adaptation and have different functions. They are often one of the parts of the body that gets the least attention. As a result, diseases and complaints in the area of ​​the feet are not uncommon. There are typical foot diseases in men and women. This is related to the footwear and different body care.

Anatomy & Structure

The feet consist of a bony framework, the surrounding musculature as well as ligaments and tendons . The metatarsus consists of the ball of the foot, the sole, the heel , the back of the foot and the outer edge. The back of the foot is called the instep.The medical term for the outer edge is instep. The Latin term for the toes is digiti pedis, while the tarsus is the tarsus and the metatarsus is the metatarsus.

Each foot consists of 26 bones and two so-called sesamoids. Sesamoid bones are bones embedded in tendons that serve as additional spacers. The foot contains almost a quarter of the 206 to 215 bones in the human body.

In the area of ​​muscles, there are long and short foot muscles. The former attach to the thigh , while the short foot muscles are located on the foot skeleton itself.

Different foot shapes are distinguished based on the ratio of the second toe to the big toe. If the second toe is shorter, the doctor speaks of an Egyptian foot. A Greek foot is a foot in which the big toe is longer. A Roman foot has both toes of equal length.

Function & Tasks

The arch of the foot is maintained by ligaments. The longitudinal and transverse arches carry the weight of the body via the heel, the ball of the big toe and the ball of the small toe. While the heel carries around 33% of the body weight, the front ball of the foot takes on around 30%. 15% fall on the outer edge of the foot. The rest is distributed on the toes. On average, the big toe takes 5%, while the other toes carry the remaining 7%.

The fatty pad of the sole of the foot has a cushioning effect. It cushions the weight when running and prevents damage to the spine and joints. The foot muscles are in turn responsible for the movement of the foot. The high density of receptors in the soles and toes regulates the sense of touch. While human grasping with their feet has declined, our related apes use their feet for this purpose.

In humans, the feet are responsible for walking upright. The feet take over a large part of the balance regulation. People who lose their little toe in an accident, for example, have trouble walking at first. They lack the lateral receptors that prevent twisting.

Diseases & Ailments

The complaints and clinical pictures that affect the feet range from infections and inflammations to deformations. In most cases, those affected are to blame for the symptoms themselves. Frequently wearing unsuitable shoes can lead to foot deformities.These include, for example, bony protrusions of the heel bone ( heel spur ) and the so-called hallux valgus . This is a bend in the big toe towards the other toes. Flat , fallen arches and splayfeet affect the arch of the foot. They are based on a lowering of the vault. If the arch of the foot is too pronounced, the doctor speaks of a hollow foot or pes cavus. Another name is Pes excavatus.

Everyday complaints include calluses and ingrown or brittle toenails. Incorrect cutting or filing of the nails often leads to inflammation of the nail bed or the surrounding skin. If the protective barrier of the feet is damaged, fungal infestation ( athlete’s foot ) is not uncommon. The risk of infection is particularly high in public wet rooms such as swimming pools or saunas. The warm, humid climate that prevails in shoes in summer promotes the spread of germs .

Tight shoes encourage corns . They occur more frequently in women. Tumors can also develop in the area of ​​the feet. Specialist medicine refers to tumors of connective tissue and fat cells as neuromas. To prevent diseases, regular foot massages and comfortable shoes can help. Regular barefoot walking strengthens your feet. Special gel inserts ensure that new shoes are more comfortable to wear.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.