Merck Manual

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Evaluation of the Foot


Alexandra Villa-Forte

, MD, MPH, Cleveland Clinic

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2024
Topic Resources

Physical Examination of the Foot

The patient is observed standing, for collapse of the longitudinal arch in pes planus (flat foot) and pes cavus (a high arch). The patient is observed from behind while standing on toes; contraction of the gastrocnemius, the degree of heel inversion, the height of the foot arch, and the degree of lateral symmetry are assessed.

Bones of the Foot and Ankle

Bones of the Ankle and Foot

The foot is palpated gently for warmth and to detect subtle swelling. Comparison to the unaffected side is useful. Sensation to light touch is tested, at minimum, on the top of the first webbed space and the side of the foot. The dorsalis pedis pulse is palpated over the anterior foot, and the posterior tibial pulse is palpated behind the medial malleolus.

How to Examine the Foot

The foot is palpated for tenderness using one finger and beginning with light palpation to minimize patient anxiety. Palpation of the metatarsal bones and joints should include the 5th metatarsal head, a common site of fracture; the spaces between the metatarsal heads; and the tarsometatarsal joint. After injury, palpation of the tarsal bones should include the navicular, another common site of foot fracture. Patients with heel pain after injury are assessed for tenderness of the calcaneus by cupping the heel in one hand and squeezing.

Passive range of motion is tested for dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, eversion (while securing the heel), and inversion (by rotating the heel inward). Active range of motion is tested for dorsiflexion, plantar flexion, and eversion. Posterior tibialis function is tested by having the patient stand on one foot and attempt to rise onto the ball of the foot (single-heel-raise test).

NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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