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Calcaneus Bone: Definition, Anatomy & Function

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Without the heel bone you wouldn't have the pleasure of wiggling your toes nor, even, properly walking. Find out why in this lesson on this bone's anatomy and function.

What is the Calcaneus?

The calcaneus is the largest tarsal bone. 'Tarsus' is the name for seven bones of the foot that help comprise the ankle. The calcaneus itself is often simply called the heel bone. Its etymology makes it clear as much. See, in Latin, 'calcaneum' means heel.

Let's learn more about this bone's anatomy and function.

Anatomy

Anatomically, the calcaneus is quite easy to identify. Touch your heel and you'll touch the calcaneus. It is a bone that is cuboidal in shape, but irregularly so. In other words, it's by no means a perfect cube, but it sort of resembles one.

The long axis of the calcaneus is inclined upwards. This means that the part of the heel you stand on is only one part of the calcaneus. A large part of the calcaneus doesn't touch the ground, so to speak. If you run your hand from the bottom of your foot at the heel, and towards the front of the foot, you'll notice it sort of arches upwards. Part of this arch occurs as a result of the fact that the long axis of the calcaneus inclines upwards as it runs towards the front of your foot.

The calcaneus, like any other bone, is living tissue, so it must receive a supply of blood. This supply of fresh and nutritious arterial blood occurs thanks in part to the:

  • Medial and lateral calcaneal arteries
  • Fibular artery
  • Connection between the posterior tibial and fibular arteries called the posterior calcaneal anastomosis
  • Medial and lateral plantar arteries
  • Artery of the tarsal sinus and tarsal canal
  • Branches coming off of the lateral tarsal artery

The calcaneus is also innervated by branches of the following nerves:

  • Deep fibular
  • Tibial
  • Sural

Function

The main function of the calcaneus is to act a lever for your calf muscles, but it also works as an attachment point for other lesser-known muscles of the foot. Thus, it serves as an attachment point for the following:

  • Triceps surae, the fancy name for the calf muscles.
  • Abductor hallucis, which abducts the big toe. Abduction refers to the movement of something away from the midline of the body.
  • Extensor digitorum brevis, which helps to extend the middle three toes.
  • Extensor hallucis brevis, which is used to extend the big toe.
  • Flexor digitorum brevis, which helps flex your toes (except the big one).
  • Quadratus plantae, aka flexor digitorum accessorius, which also helps flex your toes (except the big toe).
  • Abductor digiti minimi (of the foot), which helps abduct and flex your little toe.

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