“I’ll plead the 1st … .”   More foot geek stuff from The Gait Guys.

The 1st Ray that is!

The “1st ray” consists of the 1st metatarsal and the medial cunieform, essentially the long bones associated with the big toe. It is a functional unit we often refer to when discussing foot biomechanics.

You have heard us speak of the 1st ray needing to descend to form the medial tripod of the foot (tripod review: head of 1st metatarsal, head of 5th metetarsal, center of calcaneus). This action depends to some degree on the competency of the peroneus longus, which attaches from the upper lateral fibula and the associates interosseous membrane; curves around the lateral malleolus, crosses under the foot and attaches to the base of the 1st metatarsal and medial cunieform. The tibialis posterior is supportive to this action. This action is opposed (or modulated, for every Yin there is a Yang; it’s all about balance) is the tibialis anterior, which attaches to the top of the base of the 1st metatarsal and 1st cunieform.

As a result, 1st rays can be elevated or depressed. (here is a latin term to impress your friends with: Metatarsus Primus Elevatus, or elevation/dorsiflexion of the 1st ray/metatarsal). Clinically, we see more that are elevated, resulting in a faulty (collapsing) medial tripod of the foot. The important thing is isn’t necessarily its position, but rather its flexibility. The inflexible ones (isn’t it always?) are the problem children, because they result in altered (notice I didn’t say bad) biomechanics. The further we move from ideal, the closer we seem to move to some compensation pattern. The flexible ones are still a problem but we can control and dampen their rate of flexible collapse.

Generally speaking, a plantar flexed 1st ray that is rigid, has a tendency to throw your center of gravity (an often your knee) to the outside of the foot tripod (think of a rigid cavus foot) and a dorsiflexed to the inside of the foot tripod. Sure, there are LOTS of other factors, but we are talking in generalities here.

Look carefully at the images above and note the position of the 1st metatarsal heads. In the top set, the 1st is depressed (or plantarflexed). In the bottom set they are elevated (or dorsiflexed). Cool, eh? 

NOTE: please refrain from using the term “dropped metatarsal”. Nothing gets dropped, it is correctly stated as plantarflexed (rigid or flexible).

Be on the look out for these on your clinical exam.

Ivo and Shawn. Bringing you one step closer to foot geekdom each day!

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