Human Anatomy – Feet

Your feet are the body structures that let you walk, run, jump or so much as stand. They are each made of 26 bones and 33 joints.

A foot is divided into the forefoot, midfoot and hindfoot. The forefoot holds five long bones called the metatarsals and another five called the phalanges, which form the toes. The arching sole of the feet is formed by the bones of the midfoot, which include the cuboid bone, cuneiform bones, and the navicular bone. Finally, the hindfoot contains the talus and the calcaneus bones, which form the ankle and heel, respectively.

In addition to bones and joints, the feet are made of more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. You are able to make a wide range of motion because of the profusion of these tissues in the feet. Among them is the Achilles tendon, which anchors the calcaneus to the calf muscle, making it possible for you to stand upright.

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Feet diseases and conditions

Due to their complex structure, the feet have many conditions to reckon with. Many of them involve the bones and joints.

Not a few would attest to have suffered from bunions, those painful bumps on the joint between the big toe and the rest of the foot. Bunions, which are also known as hallux valgus, can force the big toe to point inwards. This condition may be hereditary or caused by ill-fitting footwear.

Toe joints are truly given to anomalies. For example, there are cases wherein they abnormally contract, causing them to look like “claw toes”. Sometimes, the joints in the middle of the toes may refuse to straighten, forcing them to become oriented downwards (“hammer or mallet toes”).

Some people complain of a toenail growing into the skin. This condition, known as an ingrown toenail, is a very common foot condition. It can progress into onychomycosis or fungal infection, discoloring the nails.

Others complain of an unusual growth between the toes called Morton’s neuroma. The growth takes place around nerve cells, causing pain and a burning sensation.

Anomalous growths are not confined to the forefoot. In the hindfoot, some people complain of a bony growth in the calcaneus or heel bone. Called a heel spur, such a growth impedes movement, let alone standing.

Heel spurs aside, the hindfoot can be beset by several conditions. For instance, there is metatarsalgia, which occurs when the ball of the foot become inflamed.

In sum, the bones of the feet are some of the easiest to fracture, the metatarsals often most broken. And because they are among the most used parts of the body, the feet are at the mercy of the effects of time, i.e. wear and tear. As a result, arthritis sets in.

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Foot arthritis takes three forms, foremost of which is osteoarthritis. Repetitive feet activities cause this condition, which occurs when the feet cartilage becomes overly worn out. Rheumatoid arthritis is the second form of feet arthritis, caused by autoimmunity. This kind of arthritis is known to damage the joints in the toes and ankle. The third kind of arthritis is called gout, which occurs when crystals accumulate in the joints, particularly in the big toe.

Because of its ubiquity in everyday activities, the feet tend to develop corns and calluses. These are buildups of tough skin around areas most often exposed to excessive pressure or friction. Corns have a distinguishing conical shape.

There are other skin conditions of the feet, like plantar warts. Painful and not easy to treat, a plantar wart is brought by a virus infecting the sole of the foot.

If not a virus, fungi can cause an assortment of problems for the feet. One of the most reported condition in this case is athlete’s foot. In this condition, the fungus causes the skin on the feet to grow dry, flaky, itchy and inflamed.

In other conditions, the problem lies inside, rather than outside, the foot. Many have experienced, for example, injured Achilles tendons, which make walking very painful. Many have also suffered from plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of a ligament in the sole, called the plantar fascia.

Some people do not have a sole in the first place, or at least a naturally arching one. This condition is called fallen arches or flat feet. Either you are born with it or you develop it later in life. Fortunately, this condition can be rectified by orthotics or footwear inserts.

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There are many foot conditions with underlying causes. If you find your foot too slow to recover from cuts and wounds, then you may be diabetic. Meanwhile, problems in the kidney, liver or heart are associated with edema or swollen feet. Then again, edema is also caused by prolonged standing.

Treating feet conditions

It runs counter to a healthy lifestyle to buy uncomfortable shoes. Sacrifice quality footwear and your health goes down with it. After all, the feet are arguably the most mechanically used structures in the body. They require investments.

It even pays to invest in shoe inserts. Also known as orthotics, shoe inserts can be ready-made or made to order.

But for feet fractures, surgery is inevitable. Surgical treatment may be followed by a period of physical therapy to rehabilitate and improve strength in the feet.

You can manage painful feet with non-prescription drugs such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen. Doctors can go as far as prescribing cortisone injections to alleviate intense pain associated with serious feet conditions.

Whether administered orally or intravenously, antibiotics are only for feet conditions set off by bacteria. In the same way, antifungal medicines are only for Athlete’s foot and similar infections. The latter are often available in topical form.

Tests for feet conditions

A podiatrist would be able to diagnose foot conditions well. He or she would physically examine your feet for pain, deformities, inflammations, discolorations and other concerns.

If the podiatrist suspects a problem inside the feet, he or she can order a magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) or a computed tomography scan (CT). But if the problem is skeletal in nature, then a simple X-ray of the foot would do.

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