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Foot care health centre

The feet

Our feet are important for standing, walking, running and jumping.

Feet consist of bones, joints, muscles and soft tissues.

Many conditions can affect the feet, toes and toe nails, from injuries to fungal infections.

Picture of the feet

Human foot

The feet are divided into three sections:

  • The forefoot contains the five toes (phalanges) and the five longer bones (metatarsals).
  • The midfoot is a pyramid-like collection of bones that form the arches of the feet. These include the three cuneiform bones, the cuboid bone and the navicular bone.
  • The hindfoot forms the heel and ankle. The talus bone supports the leg bones (tibia and fibula), forming the ankle. The calcaneus (heel bone) is the largest bone in the foot.

Muscles, tendons and ligaments run along the surfaces of the feet, allowing the complex movements needed for motion and balance. The Achilles tendon connects the heel to the calf muscle and is essential for running, jumping and standing on the toes.

Feet conditions

  • Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament along the bottom of the foot. Pain in the heel and arch, worst in the morning, are symptoms.
  • Osteoarthritis of the feet: Age and wear and tear cause the cartilage in the feet to wear out. Pain, swelling and deformity in the feet are symptoms of osteoarthritis.
  • Gout: An inflammatory condition in which crystals periodically deposit in joints, causing severe pain and swelling. The big toe is often affected by gout.
  • Athlete's foot: A fungal infection of the feet, causing dry, flaking, red and irritated skin. Daily washing and keeping the feet dry can prevent athlete's foot.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: An autoimmune form of arthritis that causes inflammation and joint damage. Joints in the feet, ankle and toes may be affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Bunions (hallux valgus): A bony prominence next to the base of the big toe that may cause the big toe to turn inwards. Bunions may occur in anyone, but are often caused by heredity or ill-fitting footwear.
  • Achilles tendon injury: Pain in the back of the heel may suggest a problem with the Achilles tendon. The injury can be sudden or a nagging daily pain (tendinitis).
  • Diabetic foot infection: People with diabetes are vulnerable to infections of the feet, which can be more severe than they appear. People with diabetes should examine their feet daily for any injury or signs of developing infection such as redness, warmth, swelling and pain.
  • Swollen feet (oedema): A small amount of swelling in the feet can be normal after prolonged standing and common in people with varicose veins. Feet oedema can also be a sign of heart, kidney or liver problems.
  • Calluses: A build-up of tough skin over an area of frequent friction or pressure on the feet. Calluses usually develop on the balls of the feet or the heels and may be uncomfortable or painful.
  • Corns: Like calluses, corns consist of excessive tough skin build-up at areas of excessive pressure on the feet. Corns typically have a cone shape with a point, and can be painful.
  • Heel spurs: An abnormal growth of bone in the heel, which may cause severe pain during walking or standing. People with plantar fasciitis are sometimes found to have heel spurs.
  • Ingrown toenails: One or both sides of a toenail may grow into the skin. Ingrown toenails may be painful or lead to infections.
  • Fallen arches (flat feet): The arches of the feet flatten during standing or walking, potentially causing other feet problems. Flat feet can be corrected with shoe inserts (orthotics), if necessary.
  • Nail fungal infection (onychomycosis): Fungus creates discolouration or a crumbling texture in the fingernails or toenails. Nail infections can be difficult to treat.
  • Mallet toes: The joint in the middle of a toe may become unable to straighten, causing the toe to point down. Irritation and other feet problems may develop without special footwear to accommodate the mallet toe.
  • Metatarsalgia: Pain and inflammation in the ball of the foot. Strenuous activity or ill-fitting shoes are the usual causes.
  • Claw toes: Abnormal contraction of the toe joints, causing a claw-like appearance. Claw toe can be painful and usually requires a change in footwear.
  • Fracture: The metatarsal bones are the most frequently broken bones in the feet, either from injury or repetitive use. Pain, swelling, redness and bruising may be signs of a fracture.
  • Verruca (plantar wart): A viral infection in the sole of the foot that can form a callus with one or more central dark spots. Plantar warts can be painful and difficult to treat.
  • Morton's neuroma: An irritation or compression of nerve tissue often between the third and fourth toes. The irritation or compression may cause pain, numbness, and burning and often improves with a change in footwear.
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