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Anatomy For Runners: The Foot and Ankle

Welcome to my Anatomy For Runners series! With this I’m hoping to educate runners on their bodies so that they feel more empowered in staying healthy. Don’t worry, we’ll keep it light, fun, and focused on what you really need to know with a bias toward the runner’s body.

In this third installment of the series, we are talking all about the foot and ankle. If you have read any of my blogs in the past, you already know that I LOVE the foot and ankle. In fact, I’ve probably already written this blog piecemeal in other posts, but let’s bring it all together in one, nifty package (with a bow, of course).

The foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints, and over 100 muscles. Don’t worry, we won’t go over all of them, but this is an important fact to note, because the foot is structured this way to both be flexible and rigid. All of the bones and joints allow for adaptability over different types of surfaces and terrain. Sort of like the SUV of the body: it can get you to the grocery store and soccer practice as well as off roading, through the rain, snow, and ice. Weird analogies aside, our feet are designed to take us where we need to go.

We will divide the foot into 3 sections: the forefoot, midfoot, and rearfoot, for simplification purposes. The forefoot is where the long bones of the metatarsals are, and of course we have 5 of these, one for each toe. Of particular interest is the big toe joint, anatomically called the first metatarsalphalangeal joint, because of its important role in running and walking. More on that later. The midfoot is where the magic happens, and is comprised of several bones and joints. Here we have the navicular, three cuneiforms, and cuboid. Movement in the midfoot is what allows for adjustment to the ground, whether we need flexibility over uneven ground or rigidity to generate power to push us forward. The rearfoot works with the midfoot to produce the foot/ankle motions that we need, and includes the calcaneus and talus (the heel bone and another bone that sits on top of it).