What is Plantar Flexion and Dorsiflexion?

Andrea Taktak, Artem Cheprasov
  • Author
    Andrea Taktak

    Mrs. Taktak is in her 21st year of teaching high school science courses. She has designed curriculum and lessons for Forensic Science and Sports Medicine, and has taught Honors Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Physical Science, and Environmental Science. Mrs. Taktak is a Master Teacher with a Teacher Leader Endorsement and has a Masters Degree in Education from Graceland University as well as a Bachelors of Science degree from Northern Kentucky University. She also most recently earned her Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist certificate while studying and volunteering at the Cincinnati Nature Center.

  • Instructor
    Artem Cheprasov

    Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Learn the definition of plantar flexion. Understand the meaning and morphology of dorsiflexion. Learn how dorsiflexion is different from plantar flexion. Updated: 02/11/2022

Table of Contents


What is Plantar Flexion?

The word "flexion" can be found in many anatomical movements. Commonly, people understand what is meant to flex at the knee or elbow. Flexion is the decreased angle at a joint between two or more bones. For example, if you bend your elbow from a straightened position, the angle decreases between the humerus and the radius and ulna of the forearm. This term can be applied to specific joints. So, what is plantar flexion? Plantar flexion can be defined as the decreased angle between the plantar side of the foot and the back of the tibia at the tibiotalar joint, commonly called the ankle. The word plantar comes from the Latin origin meaning sole of the foot. In essence, the plantar side of the foot is the underside or sole. A good way to remember this is by thinking of a plantar wart. These warts grow on the underside of the foot and toes. A more common meaning of the term flexion is bending. Plantar flexion is a bending of the sole of the foot down where the toes are moving down and away from the body.

In the image, the bottom of the foot called the plantar side of the foot is seen.

This image shows the sole of the foot also known as the plantar side of the foot.

Examples of Plantar Flexion

Plantar flexion is used often because it is a movement associated with the ankle joint. Any time the toes are pointed downward, plantar flexion occurs. Examples include:

  • Bending the foot downward during walking to propel the body forward as it pushes off the ground.
  • Standing on tip toes to reach something on a high shelf.
  • Pushing the foot down on the gas pedal of a car.
  • Jumping as the feet point down to propel the body upward from the ground.

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  • 0:04 Flexing Your Muscle
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When standing on tip toes, the plantar side of the foot and toes is bent backwards toward the posterior side of the leg. This position represents plantar flexion.

An image of a woman up on tip toes to kiss her partner.

What is Dorsiflexion?

Dorsiflexion is a movement associated with the multiple joints. The prefix dorsi has a Latin origin that refers to the word dorsal, meaning the back side of an animal. Consider a dorsal fin on a shark which is located on the back side of the shark. If the foot was a four-legged animal, the dorsal side would be the top of the foot. Likewise, if the hand was held out straight, the back side of the hand is called the dorsal side. So, what is dorsiflexion? Dorsiflexion can be defined as the decreased angle between the dorsal side of the body part and the bone or bones that are proximal to the body. When the wrist is bent and the back of the hand is moving towards the body, dorsiflexion occurs. When the toes are pointed up or raised backward toward the body, this is also called dorsiflexion. A fun way to remember this motion is to think of the toes pointing upward like the dorsal fin points upward on a shark.

The top of the feet are known as the dorsal side. If the top of the foot or toes are pulled backward towards the tibia, this would be called dorsiflexion.

This image shows the top of the feet called the dorsal side of the feet.

Examples of Dorsiflexion

Dorsiflexion occurs any time the toes are pointed upwards or the wrist is bent backwards. Examples of dorsiflexion include:

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of plantar flexion?

Plantar flexion takes place when the toes and foot bend downward away from the body. Plantar flexion occurs when standing on tip toes or walking in high heels.

What is the difference between plantar flexion and dorsiflexion?

The difference between plantar flexion and dorsiflexion is the body part doing the flexing. The plantar side of the foot can bend down towards the back side of the leg which is plantar flexion. The dorsal side of a body part such as the top of the foot or back side of the hand can bend towards the more proximal bones of the body. Pulling the toes upwards is an example of dorsiflexion.

What happens during dorsiflexion?

During dorsiflexion, the dorsal side of a body part bends backwards towards the more proximal bones. The angle between these bones is decreased. An example would be pulling a finger backwards toward the dorsal side of the hand. The backside of the finger is the dorsal side and the angle will decrease between the finger bones and the hand bones.

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