Jun 2016 04

This little piggy went to market

By: Dave Wheeler

Each of your feet contains 26 bones, combined that's over ¼ of the bones in your body.

Each of your toes, with the exception of the big toe, is made up of 3 bones in a row, called phalanges. The big toe has 2 phalanges.

The phalange on each toe is labelled according to whether it's the one at the end of your toe, in the middle, or closest to the main part of your foot.

So for the 4 smaller toes (the ones that have 3 phalanges), the bones are:

  • Distal phalanges (the ones right at the end of each of your toes)
  • Medial phalanges (the ones in the middle, i.e., just before the end of your toe)
  • Proximal phalanges (the ones closest in to the main part of your foot)

The big toe doesn't have a medial phalange; it only has a distal and proximal.

The toes (that is, the line of phalanges making up the toe) are numbered:

  • The little piggy that went to market (the big toe): I
  • The little piggy that stayed at home: II
  • The little piggy that had roast beef: III
  • The little piggy that had none: IV
  • The little piggy that wee wee wee all the way home (the little toe): V

Behind each of the toes (phalanges) are the metatarsal bones.

Each of the metatarsals is a larger extension of the phalanges. They're numbered in the same way, so the first metatarsal is the long bone behind the big toe, and so on.

The metatarsals lie between the phalanges and the large collection of bones in the mid- and hind-foot, called the tarsus or tarsal bones.

The tarsus is a collection of bones that articulate together to allow a complex set of motions - needed to provide stablity when we walk. If we just had a single bone instead of this collection, we wouldn't be able to walk with a spring in our step!

The bones that make up the tarsus are:

  • The calcaneus (the heel bone). This is the largest bone of the of the tarsal group, and the largest of the foot. The inserts into the back top edge of the calcaneus.
  • The talus (the ankle bone). The talus is the 2nd  largest  of the tarsal bones. Unlike other bones in the human body, no muscles at all attach to the talus. So the positioning of, and movement of, the ankle is solely determined by the other bones around it.
  • The navicular bone lies just forward of the talus.
  • The cuboid and cuneiform bones lie more or less in a line just behind the metatarsals. Many of the muscles of the leg attach to these bones.


Injuries to the bones of the feet

If you've stubbed your little toe hard and broken it, then you're likely to know that there's little you can do: you've just got to splint it and rest it as best you can.

If you've broken one of the other phalanges or the metatarsals, then the chances it means a trip to A&E. Metatarsal injuries are common footballers, with the lightweight  design of football boots.

If you break one of the bones of the tarsus - through a tackle, a skiing accident, or in some other way, then you're going to be in a cast for quite some time whilst the bones heal.