The heel is an important part of the foot that enables one to stand, balance, walk, run and jump. The unmistakable shape of the heel makes it easy to locate. You may know what the heel is and all the foot problems like bone spurs and calluses.
The heel, like the other components of the foot are intricately connected with a complex network of tendons, nerves, veins, joints and bones. The most recognizable portion of the bone is the heel bone, which is also called the tuber calcanei. This large bone protects the inside if the heel, provides structure for the foot and helps absorb the pressure on the foot when walking, running and jumping.
On either side of the tuber calcanei bone are two muscles, called the abductor hallucis and abductor digit minimi. These muscles enable one to flex the big toe and the small toe. The starting point of the Achilles tendon is also attached to the heel. The Achilles tendon contains a group of muscles, including the tricepts surae and the gastrocnemius. The triceps surae enables one to stretch the foot downward. Another, long, slender muscle called the slight plantaris. The Achilles tendon connects the foot to the calf muscle via the ankle.
The function of the heel was briefly mentioned earlier, but now a more detailed description of the heel’s function will be discussed. The size, shape and location of the heel shapes the area of the center of the foot, called the arch. The proper shape of the arch enables the force and pressure from the foot hitting the ground to be evenly distributed along the foot so no part of the foot gets damaged or worn from excessive impact. The heel also helps the foot to stabilize on uneven ground.
The bottom of the feet take a lot of impact and use in a single day. Therefore, the ability to evenly distribute the weight, pressure and shock as well as provide stability is highly important. Without the foot’s amazing use of the heel to provide these abilities, the use of the feet would be difficult and potentially painful.
The forces exerted onto the feet are distributed five ways: three along the medial part of the foot (on the side of the big toe) and two along the lateral side (on the side of small toe). The medial force distribution travels through the navicular and cuneiform bones to the ankle bone. The lateral distribution goes over the cuboid and heel bones.
The combination of the ankle and heel bones working to absorb pressure, the heel becomes the posterior support point that bears the brunt of the impact and pressure. The balls of the large and small toes are the front support point that takes the other half of the bulk of the impact pressure.
Underneath the heel, a 2 cm thick layer of subcutaneous connective tissue, equipped with built-in pressure chambers allow the heel to act as a shock absorber for the foot as well as a stabilizer for the sole of the foot.
The heel, like the rest of the foot is highly complex and functions as a shock absorber and stabilizer for the foot as well as provide protection and structure for the foot.
Injuries to the foot that affect the heel, including plantar fasciitis can easily disrupt one’s life and ability to do everyday tasks like walking. A podiatrist can help diagnose and properly treat severe, acute and chronic foot problems.