As a region, the ankle is found at the junction of the leg and the . It extends downwards (distally) from the narrowest point of the lower leg and includes the parts of the foot closer to the body (proximal) to the heel and upper surface (dorsum) of the foot.:768
The talocrural joint is the only mortise and tenon joint in the human body,:1418 the term likening the skeletal structure to the woodworking joint of the same name. The bony architecture of the ankle consists of three bones: the tibia, the fibula, and the talus. The articular surface of the tibia may be referred to as the plafond (French for "ceiling"). The medial malleolus is a bony process extending distally off the medial tibia. The distal-most aspect of the fibula is called the lateral malleolus. Together, the malleoli, along with their supporting ligaments, stabilize the talus underneath the tibia.
Because the motion of the subtalar joint provides a significant contribution to positioning the foot, some authors will describe it as the lower ankle joint, and call the talocrural joint the upper ankle joint.
The bony arch formed by the tibial plafond and the two malleoli is referred to as the ankle "mortise" (or talar mortise). The mortise is a rectangular socket. The ankle is composed of three joints: the talocrural joint (also called talotibial joint, tibiotalar joint, talar mortise, talar joint), the subtalar joint (also called talocalcaneal), and the Inferior tibiofibular joint. The joint surface of all bones in the ankle are covered with articular cartilage.
The distances between the bones in the ankle are as follows:
- Talus - medial malleolus : 1.70 ± 0.13 mm
- Talus - tibial plafond: 2.04 ± 0.29 mm
- Talus - lateral malleolus: 2.13 ± 0.20 mm
Decreased distances indicate osteoarthritis.
The ankle joint is bound by the strong deltoid ligament and three lateral ligaments: the anterior talofibular ligament, the posterior talofibular ligament, and the calcaneofibular ligament.
- The deltoid ligament supports the medial side of the joint, and is attached at the medial malleolus of the tibia and connect in four places to the talar shelf of the calcaneus, calcaneonavicular ligament, the navicular tuberosity, and to the medial surface of the talus.
- The anterior and posterior talofibular ligaments support the lateral side of the joint from the lateral malleolus of the fibula to the dorsal and ventral ends of the talus.
- The calcaneofibular ligament is attached at the lateral malleolus and to the lateral surface of the calcaneus.
Though it does not span the ankle joint itself, the syndesmotic ligament makes an important contribution to the stability of the ankle. This ligament spans the syndesmosis, i.e. the articulation between the medial aspect of the distal fibula and the lateral aspect of the distal tibia. An isolated injury to this ligament is often called a high ankle sprain.
The bony architecture of the ankle joint is most stable in dorsiflexion. Thus, a sprained ankle is more likely to occur when the ankle is plantar-flexed, as ligamentous support is more important in this position. The classic ankle sprain involves the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), which is also the most commonly injured ligament during inversion sprains. Another ligament that can be injured in a severe ankle sprain is the calcaneofibular ligament.
Retinacula, tendons and their synovial sheaths, vessels, and nerves
A number of tendons pass through the ankle region. Bands of connective tissue called retinacula (singular: retinaculum) allow the tendons to exert force across the angle between the leg and foot without lifting away from the angle, a process called bowstringing.
The extends between the anterior (forward) surfaces of the tibia and fibula near their lower (distal) ends. It contains the anterior tibial artery and vein and the tendons of the tibialis anterior muscle within its tendon sheath and the unsheathed tendons of extensor hallucis longus and extensor digitorum longus muscles. The deep peroneal nerve passes under the retinaculum while the superficial peroneal nerve is outside of it. The is a Y-shaped structure. Its lateral attachment is on the calcaneus, and the band travels towards the anterior tibia where it is attached and blends with the superior extensor retinaculum. Along that course, the band divides and another segment attaches to the plantar aponeurosis. The tendons which pass through the superior extensor retinaculum are all sheathed along their paths through the inferior extensor retinaculum and the tendon of the fibularis tertius muscle is also contained within the retinaculum.
The extends from the medial malleolus to the medical process of the calcaneus, and the following structures in order from medial to lateral: the tendon of the tibialis posterior muscle, the tendon of the flexor digitorum longus muscle, the posterior tibial artery and vein, the tibial nerve, and the tendon of the flexor hallucis longus muscle.
The fibular retinacula hold the tendons of the fibularis longus and fibularis brevis along the lateral aspect of the ankle region. The superior fibular retinaculum extends from the deep transverse fascia of the leg and lateral malleolus to calcaneous. The inferior fibular retinaculum is a continuous extension from the inferior extensor retinaculum to the calcaneous.:1418–9
Mechanoreceptors of the ankle send proprioceptive sensory input to the central nervous system (CNS). Muscle spindles are thought to be the main type of mechanoreceptor responsible for proprioceptive attributes from the ankle. The muscle spindle gives feedback to the CNS system on the current length of the muscle it innervates and to any change in length that occurs.
It was hypothesized that muscle spindle feedback from the ankle dorsiflexors played the most substantial role in proprioception relative to other muscular receptors that cross at the ankle joint. However, due to the multi-planar range of motion at the ankle joint there is not one group of muscles that is responsible for this. This helps to explain the relationship between the ankle and balance.
In 2011, a relationship between proprioception of the ankle and balance performance was seen in the CNS. This was done by using a fMRI machine in order to see the changes in brain activity when the receptors of the ankle are stimulated. This implicates the ankle directly with the ability to balance. Further research is needed in order to see to what extent does the ankle affect balance.