Overview of the Tarsal Bones in the Foot

The tarsal bones of the foot are important for stability and movement. These bones can become injured in some types of trauma, causing foot pain. This article explains the structure and function of the tarsal bones, as well as why they can become damaged and how to recover after a tarsal bone fracture.

Human foot bones on white surface
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Overview

Your tarsal bones are located in the rearfoot (also called hindfoot) and midfoot areas of your foot. These bones are also known collectively as the tarsus. 

There are seven bones within the tarsal bones group:

  • Talus: Ankle bone
  • Calcaneus: Heel bone
  • Navicular: Located at the top of the foot between the ankle bone and the cuneiform bones
  • Cuboid: Provides stability for the foot and helps with the movement of the toes
  • Medial cuneiform: Anchors several of the ligaments in the foot
  • Intermediate cuneiform: Important in the flexibility of the foot
  • Lateral cuneiform: Helps form the arch of the foot

The calcaneus is the largest of the tarsal bones and is the largest bone in the entire foot.

Anatomy

The tarsal bones articulate (attached by joints) with the bones of the metatarsus, a group of five long bones located between the tarsal bones and the phalanges (toe bones). The tarsus meets the ankle joint above, which connects to the tibia and fibula bones of the leg.

Movement

Movements that involve the tarsal bones include:

  • Inversion: The foot is tilted towards the body so that the sole of the foot faces inward toward the middle line of the body.
  • Eversion: The foot is tilted away from the body so that the sole of the foot faces outward, away from the middle line of the body.
  • Plantar Flexion: The toes of the foot point down.
  • Dorsiflexion: The foot tilts upward so that the toes are pointing at the sky.

Pronation and Supination

Supination and pronation are movements that your foot makes while it strikes the ground during active motion, such as while running.

  • Pronation: This movement describes landing on the outer side of the heel and the inward rolling and flatting of the foot. This is a normal and necessary movement of the foot while walking or running. Abnormal conditions can occur in which the pronation is extreme during movement (overpronation). 
  • Supination: Also referred to as under-pronation, this is a movement in which the foot roll is toward the outside of the foot. Supination is normal when the foot is pushing off during a step while walking. However, there are abnormal conditions in which the supination is extreme during motion. This excessive outward rolling of the ankle places considerable strain on the ligaments and tendons of the joint and can result in ankle sprains and other injuries.

Pronation, supination, and overpronation can affect the way you walk in many ways.

Tarsal Fractures

A tarsal fracture is a fracture of any of the tarsal bones of the foot. They are rare and can occur from impact injuries or due to force from repetitive actions.

Stress fractures or hairline fractures most often affect the calcaneus or navicular bones.

If you experience a tarsal stress fracture, especially a navicular fracture, your healthcare provider may check your vitamin D level because this vitamin is important for healing.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms from tarsal fractures include sudden pain, difficulty bearing weight on the foot, and tenderness in the area of the fracture. A stress fracture usually causes a gradual onset of pain and difficulty weight-bearing (standing on your feet).

Treatment for tarsal fractures generally involves wearing a cast on your foot for approximately six weeks and staying off your broken foot while the bone heals. You might be prescribed a special boot if you have a stress fracture.

You will need to use crutches to keep weight off of your foot while it is healing.

Sometimes surgery is needed. New treatments such as shock wave therapy and bone marrow aspirate concentrate are also being used as alternatives.

A Word From Verywell

At any age and activity level, taking care of your feet is important. This means staying active, avoiding banging on hard surfaces or excessively repetitive activities, and wearing footwear that gives you the support and cushioning you need.

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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