Feet mechanics and foot pain

Feet mechanics and foot pain


Each foot is made up of 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. These all work together to provide you with support, balance and mobility.¹

foot skeleton


While the make-up of your foot is impressive, the downside of this complexity is that there are so many different things that can go wrong and lead to pain and discomfort. No wonder foot pain is so common, with aching or stiffness frequently affecting one in five of us, and nearly four in five of us experiencing pain in the metatarsal area at some time in our lives.²

To understand how and why this happens, we need to take a closer look at everything that’s going on in and with your feet, starting with all those bones.



Nearly a quarter of all the bones in your body are found in your feet.¹

Starting at the tip and working our way upwards, the phalanges, or toe bones, give the feet flexibility and help you maintain balance on uneven surfaces. Each toe is made up of three different bones, apart from the big toe which only has two.¹  The toes also help provide you with the spring you need to walk. The way the bones link together enables them to bear the large amounts of pressure generated by walking and exercise.ᴲ ⁴

The metatarsals are the longest bones in your foot, and they form a bridge between the toes and the midfoot. The wide spaces between the five metatarsals provide spring and give when the weight of the body bears down onto the foot.ᴲ ⁴




The mid-foot consists of five tarsal bones. These are small and chunky, strong enough to bear heavy loads.ᴲ ⁴

The rear of the foot includes two tarsal bones, called the calcaneus (heel bone) and the talus. The talus connects to two bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula to form the ankle joint.ᴲ ⁴

That just leaves the sesamoids. These are small, seed-shaped bones distributed within the foot. Two of the most important sesamoids are found under the first metatarsal head, and help stabilise the first metatarsal and big toe when you walk.ᴲ 




To hold all these bones in place, your foot needs supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments.

20 different muscles are used to move the foot upwards, lift the toes when stepping forward, stabilise the toes against the ground, control movement and support the arch.¹ ᴲ

The tendons connect the muscles to your bones and joints. The achilles tendon, made famous in Greek mythology, runs from the calf muscle to the heel and enables you to run, jump, walk upstairs and stand on tip-toes.

foot in motion

The ligaments help stabilise the joints. The plantar fascia, the longest ligament in the foot, runs from under the toes to the bottom of the heel bone, and forms the arch on the sole of the foot. ¹ ᴲ As your heel leaves the ground, the plantar fascia tightens. This tightening gives your foot the stability it needs to move forward with control.ᴲ



Each foot has three arches, the medial (inner) longitudinal arch, the lateral (outer) longitudinal arch and the anterior metatarsal (transverse) arch.ᴲ



The medial is the main arch of the foot. It runs along the instep and helps keep you balanced. It also generates the propulsion needed for walking and for shock absorption.ᴲ

The longitudinal arch runs along the outer side of the foot and acts as a stabiliser.ᴲ

The anterior metatarsal arch runs across the foot to add extra stability. When you walk, this arch becomes more flattened as the supporting ligaments are stretched.ᴲ



The movement in your feet takes place in the joints between the bones. Your foot has three main joints: the talocrural (ankle) joint, the subtalar joint and the midtarsal joint.ᴲ

We define the walking or gait cycle as one complete sequence (effectively two paces), from the moment the heel of one foot hits the ground until that foot comes back to the same position again. This movement has two main phases: the swing and the stance. ᴲ ⁵ 

The swing phase is when your foot is moving forward in the air. As if this detailed story of feet mechanics isn’t complicated enough, the stance phase, when the leg is in contact with the ground, has three key stages all of its own.ᴲ

contact stagestance phasepropulsive stage

At the contact stage, when the foot first hits the ground, the bones in your foot have shock absorbing qualities and adapt instantly to the terrain.ᴲ Pronation, which is when the foot rolls inwards approximately 15% when weight is placed on it⁶, occurs between the heel hitting the ground and the foot being flat on the floor.ᴲ

At the midstance stage, your foot forms a stable platform to support the body. Finally, at the propulsive stage, the heel lifts, causing the plantar fascia to tighten. This provides the springboard needed for your toes to push you forward. ³



Going to work every day, a Saturday afternoon in the shops or just taking the dog for a walk are some of the everyday activities that can lead to aching feet. Pain can occur during the walking cycle when any of the movements of your leg or foot generate forces that put extra stress on the tissues, bones or joints.ᴲ

One common cause of pain is an increase in the amount of pronation. As many as 70% of us have a tendency for our feet to roll over further than normal.ᴲ This can lead to an increased lowering of the arch as the foot flattens further, an increased rotation of the leg as the foot rolls further over and inwards, along with a tilting of the heel. All these movements are linked to problems such as ankle, heel and knee joint pain. ᴲ ⁷

heelachilles tendonknee source

Foot pain can affect your daily life. It can stop you participating in leisure activities such as walking or sport.



Around 90% of older individuals with foot problems do not appear to seek help for their feet over prolonged periods of time (18 months).⁸

Scholl produce a range of effective foot orthotic products that can help treat the symptoms and relieve pain. A foot orthotic is a medical device that you put into your shoe, that is designed to decrease the amount of pronation and help you stay active. Click here to find out more about Scholl Inbalance Pain Relief Insoles and how they can help you.




Source references:

¹ sourced 18.03.19  https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/where-it-hurts/foot-heel-and-toe-pain/foot-anatomy.php

² – Arie EK, et al. Rev Bras Ortop 2015: 50: 438 -44 Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck

ᴲ – RB data on file: Scholl Foot Science, Biomechanics 2018 Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck

⁴-  Arthritis Research UK. How do the feet and ankles work? 2018. Available at: https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/surgery/foot-and-ankle-surgery/how-do-the-feet-and-ankles-work.aspx (accessed November 2018). Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck

⁵ – Kuo AD, Donelan JM. Phys Ther 2010;90:157-74. Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck

⁶sourced 19.03.19   https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-pronation-definition-causes-treatment.html

⁷ -  Medical News Today. What is overpronation? 2017. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320383.php (accessed November 2018). Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck 

⁸ - Menz HB, et al. Rheum 2010;49:2109–2116. Taken from Scholl InBalance Insoles Training Deck


Image references:

All images are taken from the Scholl InBalance Insoles Training deck

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