The foot and ankle are two of the most versatile and complex areas of your body. One foot alone contains 26 bones supported by a network of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. When everything is working well, you hardly give them a thought. But when a problem arises, it’s often impossible to ignore. At Boston Orthopaedic & Spine, our team of board-certified, fellowship-trained experts has the training and expertise to keep you active.
Foot and Ankle Anatomy
The ankle is a hinge-type joint that consists of a capsule containing fluid which both nourishes and lubricates the joint making motion possible between the foot and the leg. The ankle is made up of the tibia, fibula, and talus in addition to a large complex of ligaments and tendons.
The foot and ankle contain:
- 26 small bones (one-quarter of the bones in the human body).
- 33 joints.
- More than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.
- A large network of blood vessels, nerves, skin, and soft tissue.
These components work together to provide the body with support, balance, and mobility.
Common causes of foot and ankle pain treated at Boston Orthopaedic & Spine
Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is loss of cartilage within a joint. While there are many other types of arthritis, including rheumatoid, psoriatic, septic, post-traumatic, and lupus, wear and tear osteoarthritis remains by far the most common. Arthritis symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, stiffness, and sometimes fever and chills.
Achilles tendon injury or rupture
Achilles tendon injuries occur when the tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone is overstretched, torn, or completely ruptured. Symptoms include pain above the heel and along the back of the foot (especially when pointing or flexing the foot), tenderness, swelling, bruising and stiffness. Many patients describe a sharp ‘pop’ if the Achilles tendon ruptures during sporting activities. Treatment includes rest, anti-inflammatory medications, splinting, activity modifications, and sometimes surgery. Read More
Bone spurs (also known as osteophytes) are bony projections that develop on the surface of the bone, often at joints or on the spine. Bone spurs are often the result osteoarthritis. Bone spurs often do not cause symptoms, but can cause swelling, pain, and tearing to the surrounding tissue or tendon.
A bunion is an abnormal enlargement of the joint at the base of the big toe, characterized by a painful, bony bump. The affected toe is often curved outward, moving the bones of the feet out of alignment. Bunions may be caused by improper footwear, inherited foot structure, and foot injuries.
Bursitis is painful inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that reduce friction between bones, tendons, and muscles, caused by an injury, infection or other condition. Pain may be accompanied by swelling, tenderness or loss of movement.
Flat feet (also known as pes planus or fallen arches) is a condition in which the arch of the foot collapses, causing the entire sole of the foot to make contact with the ground. In the earlier stages, this is managed well with inserts and therapy.
A fracture is a break in a bone. Broken bone symptoms include pain (intensified when the area is moved or pressure is applied), swelling, bruising, and loss of function. Fractures may also cause the area around the bone to appear distorted or deformed, especially in open fractures where the bone protrudes from the skin.
A stress fracture is a hairline crack in a bone that can worsen during activity over time. Stress fracture symptoms include pain, which increases with activity and decreases after rest, in addition to swelling and tenderness.
Hammertoe/mallet toe/claw toe
Hammertoe, claw toe, and mallet toe are deformity conditions that cause the shape of the toes to curve. Hammertoe affects the toe’s middle joint; claw toe affects the toe’s middle and end joints; mallet toe affects the toe’s end joint. These conditions are often caused by improper footwear, but can also be inherited or caused by other systemic diseases. Read More
Heel pain & heel spurs
Heel pain is marked by discomfort when the heel bears weight. It is often caused by overuse or trauma. Heel spurs, or small, bony growths on the heel bone, can also cause pain in the heel. Treatment is often rest, activity modification, shoewear modification, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Metatarsalgia is inflammation in the ball of the foot, just behind the toes. Symptoms include sharp, burning, or aching pain in the ball of the foot and in the toes that gets worse with activity and better with rest. Metatarsalgia is often described as the feeling of having a rock in your shoe. It can be caused by a shift in normal weight distribution, such as with heavy exercise or the development of another foot condition.
Morton’s neuroma is the thickening of the tissue around the nerve between the bases of the toes (usually between the third and fourth toes). Symptoms can include the feeling of a rock in your shoe, burning pain, or numbness. The exact cause of Morton’s neuroma is unclear, but may result from irritation or injury to foot nerves connecting to the toes.
Osteochondral lesions are tears or fractures in the cartilage that covers the bones in a joint, commonly seen in the ankle and knee. In the ankle, osteochondral lesions usually occur over the bone connecting the leg to the foot (the talus). Symptoms often include sharp pain when the ankle is in a predictable, weighted position. Treatment includes rest, anti-inflammatory medications, bracing, and sometimes surgery to repair the cartilage defect.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot (called the plantar fascia), which is the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. The exact cause of plantar fasciitis is unknown, but may develop from repeated tears in the foot tissue, a result of repetitive activities, aging, or stress to the tissue. Treatment is generally nonsurgical and includes a diligent stretching program.
Sesamoiditis (also known as turf toe) is inflammation of the tendons around the big toe. This often causes pain underneath the toe in the ball of the foot, and may also present swelling, bruising, and difficulty bending or straightening the big toe. Treatment includes rest, anti-inflammatory medications, shoe wear modifications, and bracing.
Tendonitis is inflammation of the tendons, the tissue that connects muscle to bone. Tendonitis is caused by overuse (repetitive motion) or sudden injury. Tendonitis symptoms include pain in the tendon area, swelling, and loss of motion.