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Leg Muscles: Anatomy, Support & Movement

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  • 0:05 Leg Muscles
  • 1:08 Extrinsic Foot Flexors…
  • 3:01 Extrinsic Toe Flexors…
  • 3:52 Intrinsic Foot Muscles
  • 4:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Simmons

John has taught college science courses face-to-face and online since 1994 and has a doctorate in physiology.

The larger muscles that move the foot and toes are located in the leg, while smaller muscles are located in the foot. This lesson describes the major muscles responsible for the various movements of the foot at the ankle and the toes.

Leg Muscles

My daughter is a Kansas State champion gymnast. She is in fantastic shape, and she has great flexibility. She is so cute as she stands on her toes, just before she starts her routine. As she tumbles, the muscles of her thigh control the movement of her leg, and the muscles of her leg control the movement of her foot and even her toes.

Location of the extrinsic and intrinsic muscles in the leg
Extrinsic Intrinsic Muscles

The larger muscles controlling movement of the foot and the toes are located in the leg. We refer to them as the extrinsic muscles of the foot. This allows for the foot to be less bulky and capable of fine movements with fewer restrictions. Smaller muscles located in the foot are referred to as intrinsic muscles of the foot, and they move the toes and support the arch of the foot. This lesson will identify the major extrinsic as well as intrinsic muscles of the foot that are used to perform everyday as well as gymnastics routines.

Extrinsic Foot Flexors and Extensors

Most of the muscles that move the ankle produce what we call plantar flexion, which occurs when we run or walk. The bottom, or plantar surface of the foot, moves down and our heel is raised. This is the same movement performed while standing up on the balls of your feet.

The gastrocnemius is a major plantar flexor as it originates from the distal end of the femur and inserts on the heel via the calcaneal tendon. Deep to the gastrocnemius, the soleus also produces plantar flexion, and it originates from the proximal tibia and fibula and inserts on the heel via the calcaneal tendon, much like the gastrocnemius.

Let me quickly note the calcaneal tendon is also known as the Achilles tendon, so named for Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. Legend holds that Achilles met his demise when Paris shot him with an arrow in the heel, thus slowing him down and making him vulnerable.

Muscles that control the ankle include the fibularis longus and fibularis brevis.
Fibularis Longus Brevis

If we peel away the soleus, we can see the fibularis longus and the fibularis brevis that produce eversion of the foot and plantar flexion. The tibialis posterior produces inversion of the foot, as well as plantar flexion, and the plantaris is unique in that it produces not only plantar flexion of the foot, but also some flexion of the leg at the knee due to its origin on the femur.

Most of the leg muscles are posterior, while the tibialis anterior, in the anterior compartment, produces dorsiflexion of the foot at the ankle. With dosiflexion, the toes are raised and the heel is lowered. That's just the opposite of plantar flexion.

Extrinsic Toe Flexors and Extensors

Now that we've identified the major foot movers, let's take a look at some of the extrinsic muscles that move our toes. Looking at the posterior leg muscles, we see the flexor digitorum longus, as it originates from the leg and inserts on phalanges two through five. This produces flexion of these toes or digits.

The flexor hallucis longus originates from the leg and inserts on the great toe, or phalange number one. That's your big fat toe, and this produces flexion of the great toe. In the anterior of the leg, the extensor digitorum longus and the extensor hallucis longus have the same attachments of their respective flexors, thus producing extension of the digits.

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