The Foot Joints

By Jonathan Blood Smyth

The foot's design is complex and specialised to manage the forces generated by bearing the weight of the body and by the need to propel the body in gait. The talus is at the apex of the main longitudinal foot arch and is held firmly by the ankle mortise. The largest arch is the lengthways or medial arch of the foot which manages the forces involved in moving the body and standing, the spring ligament contributing to this by storing and releasing the energies involved. The outside or lateral arch is less obvious as is the transverse arch at the front of the foot.

The foot would be unable to fulfil its job of dynamically propelling and supporting the body without the arches it is designed to have. The arches absorb and hold the energies as the weight of the body interacts with the surface, releasing the energies as the step is completed. Watching someone walking who has flat and painful feet it is clear that their feet are just platforms, exhibiting a complete lack of dynamism and flexibility. It is important to maintain the health of the arches to keep our mobility at its highest level as the years go by.

The foot has two functions to perform: to cope with and distribute the weight of the body which is often multiplied by movement and to generate propulsive forces to push off in walking. The foot arches are partly maintained by the calf muscles previously mentioned in an article about the ankle, but also by the muscles controlling the toes. The long flexor muscles of the toes also start in the calf and run under the sole to the forefoot and toes, curling the toes or gripping the ground. The short flexor muscles, which start in the feet and again go to the toes, are known as the intrinsic muscles and work by pressing the toes down into the surface but without bending them.

In normal gait when the foot hits the ground the heel will hit the surface initially and somewhat on the outside. As the leg rolls over the ankle the talus slides inside the mortise of the ankle and the arches start to bear weight and their ligaments and joints absorb forces. As the step continues the weight moves inwards and forwards to end up on the metatarsal heads of the first and second toes, with the final push off coming from the toe flexor muscles.

Accessory movements, tiny involuntary movements which naturally occur within joints as they move but cannot be done independently, are present in the foot as they are in any bodily motion joint. Normal function of a joint depends at least partly on the presence of accessory movements and will suffer if they are lost or reduced. The foot has a large amount of small bones in very close relationship and constructed into complex anatomy such as the foot arches. Numerous accessory movements occur between the many joints.

As the body weight starts to be borne on the foot the arches begin to suffer a flattening effect which is countered by the calf and toe muscle strength and the ligamentous elasticity and tension. As the gait cycle approaches the push off point the arches are supported against the weight by the toes gripping the ground, the energetic ligament recoil and the muscular sling support provided by the calf muscles. As walking proceeds the arches heighten and lower in a cyclical movement during which the complex multiple joint complexes of the arches exhibit continual accessory movement between all the bones.

Each bone of the foot needs to have the ability of independent movement relative to the others, with weight causing the underneath of the joints to open as the upper surfaces close. The individual ability to accommodate to the surfaces which present themselves is vital, allowing the foot to adjust to the dynamic circumstances required. Losing some of the range of accessory movement makes the foot lose some of its dynamic flexibility as it changes into a more static body weight prop from the active organ of propulsion. - 32188

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