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What is the Metatarsus?

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  • Written By: Tara L. Barnes
  • Edited By: Lucy Oppenheimer
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2016
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To understand the anatomy and skeletal makeup of the human foot, it is essential to understand the metatarsus. The metatarsal bones are a group of five longer bones in the foot, situated in the middle of the foot. The metatarsus are located in front of the tarsal bones which are located in the middle to rear of the foot, and behind the phalanges, the bones in the toes. The five metatarsal bones do not have their own individual names. Instead, they are referenced by number, starting on the medial side, or inner side, of the foot. The bone which leads into the "big toe" is the first metatarsal and the bone behind the "little toe" is the fifth metatarsal.

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The metatarsals are shaped like a prism, tapering as they stretch from near the tarsal bones to where they meet behind the phalanges. The sides of the bones are flattened with a groove or depression on each bone which is where the ligaments are attached. The first of the metatarsal bones is the shortest of all the metatarsus, and it is also the thickest. It is a very strong bone, and its shape is not unlike a kidney. The second metatarsal is the longest metatarsus, and its shape is broad up top and narrow and rough toward the base. The third metatarsal bone has a triangular and smooth surface. The fourth metatarsal is smaller in size than its neighbor the third metatarsal, and the fifth metatarsal is unique in that it has a rough protuberance on the side of its base. It is the smallest metatarsal.

Metatarsal foot pain and injures are not uncommon, and occur frequently in football players. The metatarsus are easily injured in football due to the more modern and lightweight design of football cleats, which do not offer as much protection as the footwear of other sports. Prevention of metatarsal injuries in athletes can be increased by buying more supportive footwear, and seeking immediate medical attention if an injury to the foot is suspected. Stress fractures are one of the more common sports injuries and the metatarsal bones are often involved.

Metatarsal surgery is most commonly performed on the first metatarsal for deformity of the bunions. The second most common type of surgery on the metatarsus is on the fifth metatarsal, correcting the deformity of a tailor's bunion, an enlargement on the outside of the foot behind the pinky toe. To prevent injury, choose comfortable and non-restrictive shoes with a supportive arch and a wide toe-box.

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