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All about legs – a comprehensive listing of useful, surprising and fun facts about legs

This page is part of LegCyclopedia, the Leg Encyclopedia, a part of Leg Pain GuideOther sections:  LegTubeLegTasticLExerciseLegWorkLegFluenceLegaSeeLEnglishLegSpeakLegsApplaud and LegTech. Also: Legs & Sports – Leg Exercises & Workouts for: Swimming, Squash, Cycling, Soccer, Badminton

So here we go!

How little we know about a part of our body that adds so much to our lives!

Get enlightened, inspired and surprised by hundreds of facts about our legs, from the following sections at LegTastic:

  • Anatomically Speaking
  • Legs & People
  • Sizes & Dimensions
  • Numbers, Numbers, Numbers…
  • Legs of Animals & Birds
  • Running & Walking
  • Footwear
  • Surprising Stuff about Legs
  • Leg Diseases & Ailments

Anatomically Speaking…

  • Only humans walk on two legs – Of the more than 250 primate species, only humans go around on two legs. This is possible for us because our knees can fully extend and ‘lock’. Even for chimps, our ancestors, this is not possible, so when they try to walk upright they have to use a huge amount of muscle power to support their body weight and end up rocking back and forth in the process, before resorting to four legs again. So remember, humans are the lucky species not just in our brains, but also in our legs
  • A human foot is quite intricate – A human foot & ankle is a strong, intricate structure that contain 26 bones (including 5 long bones called metatarals), 33 joints, 31 tendons, 19 muscles, and 107 ligaments. The joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons hold the structure together and allow it to move in a variety of ways. When they are out of alignment, so is the rest of your body. By the way, the 52 bones in our two feet make up one quarter of all the bones in our body.
  • Our feet is full of nerves and glands – Humans have nearly 8000 nerves in their feet. A pair of human feet also contains about 250,000 sweat glands, and these excrete as much as half a pint of moisture each day. In fact, the soles of our feet contain more sweat glands and sensory nerve endings per square centimeter than any other part of the body.
  • Our knee is a complex structure too – A human knee is a very complex joint comprising cartilage, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels and it is here that three bones come together – namely the fibula and tibia (lower leg), and the femur (thigh).
  • You were born without a knee cap – Babies are born without kneecaps. Babies’ kneecaps are made up of soft cartilage that hadn’t yet ossified into bones. Their “true” kneecaps don’t show up until somewhere between two and six years of age.
  • Male & female legs – The male and female legs are different. The males have longer tibial and femur length. However, the greater tibiofemoral angles and hip anteversion are found on the female legs.
  • The longest muscle in our body – The body’s longest muscle is the sartorius. It is a strap-like, narrow muscle which runs all the way from the hip to the knee.
  • Fast growing bone – The leg bone is the fastest growing bone in the human body.
  • Flat feet – If your whole foot touches the floor when you stand, you have flat feet. Young children usually have them, because their foot bones, tendons, and ligaments haven’t yet formed arches. It’s normal for some people to never develop arches, but flat feet can cause pain. On the other hand, well-aligned flat feet can be helpful, because they support the body’s weight over a bigger area.
  • Thick skin – Skin on the soles of your feet is thicker than it is anywhere else on your body.
  • Feet full of cartilage when we are born – When full of born, the bones in our feet are mostly cartilage (an elastic, a rubber-like padding that covers and protects the ends of long bones at the joints). They completely harden only around age 21.
  • Knee is complicated – Knee has the largest joint in the body, and also the most complicated: like the elbow, it is a hinge, allowing the joint to bend and straighten. However, the knee joint can also rotate slightly, mostly when the leg is bent, owing to the workings of the hamstrings, the sartorius (the longest muscle in the body) and the biceps muscle (the leg not the arm variety).
  • Knee houses a unique type of bone – The kneecap is an example of sesamoid bone: a bone that is strangely buried within a tendon or muscle. Other examples are found in the wrist, foot and hand. The kneecap protects the joint, and, by attaching to the quadriceps muscle (‘quads’), helps knee straightening. Its Latin name is patella (meaning ‘small plate’) and the kneecap is not hardened until toddlers are at least 3 years old.
  • Toe full of nerves – There’s a reason stubbing your toe hurts so much – Toes are loaded with numerous nerve-ending receptors called nociceptors that are highly sensitive to actual and potential tissue damage.
  • Thickest skin – The thickest skin in the human body is located in the feet
  • Babies’ feet are flat and chubby because…– they are born with a pad of fat where an arch would normally be in an adult’s foot.
  • Some great links on leg anatomy:
    • Everything you have been wondering about the anatomy of your leg muscles – a very valuable read – from Shape.com

Legs & People

  • Long legs – Svetlana Pankratova from Russia, is thought to be the woman with the longest legs in the world at 132 cm.
  • Super expensive legs – Michael Flatley, the former dancer, musical and choreographer, famous for being the star of Riverdance and later Lord of the Dance (Wikipedia article on Michael Flatley), had his legs insured for a whopping $57 million in 1999. And since then, celeb leg insurance instances have only increased – Tina Turner ($3+ million), Heidi Klum ($2 million), Mariah Carey (an unbelievable, reported $1 billion), Rihanna ($1 million), Taylor Swift ($40 million) – Sources – Elle, CR Fashionbook
  • Ever heard of a leg funeral? – In 1836, Mexican General Santa Anna held an elaborate state funeral for his amputated leg.
  • Left & right did not matter until George IV – George IV (1762–1830) is said to have been the first person to wear a pair of shoes specially tailored for his right and left feet.
  • Stalin’s toes were webbed – Joseph Stalin suffered from syndactyly, where multiple digits are fused together. In layman’s terms, the toes (or fingers) are webbed. There’s no evidence that the condition causes any problems, nor does it improve swimming ability, as might be expected.
  • 5600 feet sniffed – Madeline Albrecht holds the world record for sniffing at most feet – she sniffed in all 5,600 feet during her job that involved feet sniffing (yes, you heard it right).
  • And da Vinci has to be here too! – Leonardo da Vinci invented an alarm clock that woke the sleeper gently by rubbing his feet.

Sizes & Dimensions

  • In the morning our feet are smaller, really – In the evening, the volume of a human foot usually increases; the difference in the morning and evening sizes of the foot can reach up to 8%. Therefore, if you want to buy new shoes, do it in the afternoon.
  • Beware women of your shoes and heels – Every 2 cm of the heel height increase the pressure on the toes by 25%. If you wear shoes with 2 ½ inch heels, the pressure on the ball and pad of you feet increases by 75%. Imagine how much greater that pressure is in 3 or 4 inch heels? Added to this, about 90% of women wear shoes that are too tight. Therefore, problems with feet occur four times more often in women than in men.
  • Foot sizes and widths are increasing – Feet are spreading to support extra weight as our populations pack on the pounds. According to a 2014 study by the College of Podiatry in the UK, the average foot has increased two sizes since the 1970s. As people have grown taller and heavier, feet respond by growing. It appears many people are still in denial about their expanding feet, though: Though retailers are starting to respond by making larger and roomier shoes, half of women and a third of men reported they buy poorly fitting shoes. Podiatrists say ill-fitting shoes are to blame for a significant portion of foot problems, especially among women.
  • Your toe length matters – If your second toe is longer than your first toe (that’s the case for an estimated 20 to 30% of Americans), you’re at increased risk for bunions, hammer toes (ones that are bent downward), and even back problems due to how you distribute pressure throughout your body. This is because all the weight should push off your first toe, but when the second one is longer, it rolls and flattens, causing all kind of foot problems. If you do have this condition (called Morton’s toe), talk to your podiatrist about the best kind of footwear for the shape of your feet, since ill-fitting shoes make the condition worse.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers…

  • Around the world four times – The American Podiatric Medical Association states the average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day, which add up to 115,000 miles in a lifetime – more than 4 times the circumference of the globe.
  • Longest feet – The record for the world’s largest feet belongs to Matthew McGrory who wears US size 28 1/2.
  • Flat feet – Sixty million Americans or 25% of the U.S. population have flat feet.
  • Lady, mind your size – 9 out of 10 women wear shoes that are too small for their feet.
  • A cement truck is on you every day – During an average day of walking, the forces on your feet can total hundreds of tons, equivalent to an average of a fully loaded cement truck.
  • Children’s feet – Children’s feet reach about 90% of their adult length by 12 years-of-age.
  • An extra toe – About 1-2 of every 1000 children born are reported to have an extra toe.

Legs of Animals & Birds

  • Horses’ leg curse – When horses break their legs, they usually have to be euthanased. The main reason for this is that horses immediately tend to put stress on the broken leg, so it can’t heal.
  • Elephants can’t jump – An elephant is the only land mammal that cannot jump – its bodyweight is simply too much for any joint to survive that impact.
  • Tasting it with feet – Butterflies taste with their feet, gannets incubate eggs under their webbed feet and elephants use their feet to hear – they pick up vibrations of the earth through their soles.
  • How many feet does a centipede have? – Although centipedes have been extensively studied for more than a century, not one has ever been found that has exactly a hundred feet. Some have more, some less.
  • Squirrels and dogs have sweaty feet – Their sweat glands are between the footpads and paws between toes,; when they get hot or excited they leave wet tracks. They also use foot sweat to mark their territorial trees.
  • Foot arch – When correctly aligned, your foot arch will support 6 times your body weight!

Legs & Professions

  • Go break a leg – Actors, before they go on stage, are often told ‘to break a leg’. This reflects an old superstition in which it is bad luck to wish someone good luck, so the opposite is done.
  • Lots of legwork – Entire professions are devoted to feet and legs: Foot Reflexologist, Podiatrist, bPodopaediatrics, Foot Hygienist, Podiatric Nurse, Pedorthist, Reflexognosist, Pedicurist, and of those biomechanical specialists who work for companies that make shoes for people with special needs.

Running & Walking

  • Running & leg muscles – Running will form leg muscles faster and better than any other form of exercise since running uses ALL of the leg muscles. Each single muscle in the legs is use.
  • Walk is easier than standing – Why is standing still more tiring than walking? Walking helps circulate the blood. It’s the increased difficulty in circulation when you are standing that causes exhausted feet.
  • Just walk it – Walking is the most affordable and safest form of exercise. That is why doctors often prescribe walking as a primary means of medical training. Walking is also the best exercise for your feet. It contributes to your general health by improving circulation and weight control. Some researchers believe that walking is even better than jogging in terms of its effect on the body.

Footwear

  • Shoes have had a long history – Humans have worn shoes for a very long time. Humans started using foot coverings about 40,000 years ago, according to researchers. Older specimens had thicker, stronger toes, likely from gripping the ground as they walked barefoot. The first foot coverings were probably animal skins, which Stone Age peoples in northern Europe and Asia tied around their ankles in cold weather.
  • The oldest shoes – The oldest pair of shoes was found in Armenia during the excavations of Areni cave in September 2008. The finding dates back to the Chalcolithic period (3,600-3,500 BC). Those were soft pointed shoes that practically did not differ from the shoes worn in Armenian villages not so long ago.
  • And in Middle East – In the Middle East heels were added to shoes to lift the foot from the burning sand.
  • A shoe museum – The only shoe museum in North America is located in Toronto. This museum showcases shoes spanning over 4,500 years.
  • Birth of sneakers – Sneakers were first made in America in 1916. They were originally called keds.
  • Men & women shoes – In Europe it wasn’t until the 18th century that women’s shoes were different from men’s.
  • Heels on shoes – Ironically, Western women started wearing heels to effect a more masculine look: European men adopted the look from Persian warriors in the 17th century, and women soon followed suit.
  • The best time to buy – The American Podiatry Medical Association says buying shoes is best done during the afternoon. Your feet tend to swell a little during the day, and it’s best to buy shoes that fit then.
  • Buy the way
    • The two feet may be different sizes. Buy shoes for the larger one.
    • The measuring device in shoe shops is called a Brannock Device, after the inventor who designed it in the Twenties. Mr Brannock worked for the company all his life and ensured the devices were built to last. The firm is still going strong.
    • Every time you purchase shoes, you should have your feet measured . . . while standing.
  • Smelly shoes – it’s not just your fault! – Our feet have approximately 250,000 sweat glands, which produce about 400 ml of sweat per day. In fact, sweat does not have the pronounced smell that sometimes shoes are marked by. Socks and shoes are the perfect warm and moist environment for bacteria that cause a bad smell.
  • History of shoe sizes – Shoe sizes were devised in England by King Edward II who declared in 1324 that the diameter of one barely corn- a third of an inch- would represent one full shoe size. That’s still true today.

Toe Tales

  • The toe was originally a thumb! – The big toe used to be a kind of foot thumb. This grasping toe helped our predecessors climb trees and, when young, grip onto their mothers. Thanks to modern science, if you lose your thumb, you can now replace it with a toe: toe-to-thumb transplants are a surprisingly common procedure these days.
  • Toe-tally – The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists a tie for the most number of fingers and toes at 25. Two Indian boys, Pranamya Menaria and Devendra Harne, each have 12 fingers and 13 toes thanks to polydactilism, a congenital condition that results in extra digits. Polydactilism occurs in about one in every 500 births and can be treated. Marilyn Monroe is rumored to have been born with an extra toe on her left foot, but the proof is iffy.
  • Toenails grow slow – Compared to fingernails, toenails grow much more slowly – about 1 mm a month (compared to 0.1 millimeter per day for fingernails). Fingernails and toenails grow faster during hot weather, pregnancy and teenage years. By the way, toenails are structurally modified hairs made of a tough protective protein.
  • Morton’s Toe – About 20-30% of the world’s population have Morton’s Toe, a foot condition in which the second toe is longer than the big toe.
  • As thick as toenails – As we get older, our toenails tend to thicken, making them hard to trim. This happens because toenails grow more slowly as we age, causing the nail cells to accumulate. Stubbing toes, bad shoes, and dropping things on your feet can also cause thickening, as can fungal infections and peripheral arterial disease, which narrows arteries and reduces the blood flow to limbs.
  • Stubborn toenail fungus – If your toenails have started to discolor or are becoming thicker and more brittle, chances are fungus is to blame.
  • Toes can replace your fingers – Since fingers and toes are both digits, they should be interchangeable, right? Well, in toe-to-hand surgery, toes can be used to replace missing fingers. The method was first used on humans in 1975 and is now widely used. Not every finger can be replaced, but often the big toe can be used for a missing thumb. They do this in a procedure called a toe-to-thumb transfer in which they replace injured or severed thumbs with big toes. While it sounds a bit weird, it’s a life-changing operation that can significantly improve people’s quality of life
    • In fact, it is said that the Egyptians knew how to replace toes with fingers – Toe prosthetics could date back as far as 3,000 years. Explorers found a mummy in Egypt with a leather and wood contraption that is believed to be a prosthetic toe. The “Cairo Toe” dates back to between 1069 BC and 664 BC and predates the earliest known prosthetic by at least 700 years.
  • Toe wresting, anyone? – If you can arm wrestle and thumb wrestle, doesn’t it just make sense that you can toe wrestle. Since 1993, the English village of Wetton has played host to the World Toe Wrestling Championship, a contest with too many toe puns to repeat. Contestants simply lock toes in a ring, then try to push each other out in a three-round toe-down (get it?). Despite the cult popularity of the sport, it was rejected by the IOC when organizers applied for inclusion in the Olympics. The sport was dominated in the last decade by Paul Beech, who nicknamed himself “The Toeminator.”
  • No toes, no woes – Not having a toe won’t stop you from getting around. While your gait may become uneven, losing a big toe—or even two—won’t prevent you from running, walking, or dancing. It will take some getting used to, but your feet are remarkably adaptable even without big toes.
  • Toe prosthetics – Humans have been figuring out ways to work around faulty toes for centuries, and hence, not surprisingly, toe prosthetics dates back to the Egyptians – about 3,000 yeas ago, ancient Egyptians are supposed to have developed the first functional prosthesis: an artificial big toe. Researchers found a wood and leather prosthetic of a big toe on the mummified foot of a 50- to 60-year-old woman who had undergone a toe amputation. Dating to the first millennium BCE, it’s known as “the Cairo Toe.”

Surprising Stuff about Legs

  • Standing out when standing up – The average foot gets a bit longer when a person stands up. Feet are also at their largest at the end of the day.
  • Two feet, two sizes – For many people, one foot is slightly larger than the other. Up to 60 percent of the population doesn’t have feet of the same size, and 80 percent of these have a larger left foot. But this doesn’t mean they should wear different sized shoes.
  • Feeling ticklish in your feet is a good sign – There’s a good reason for that: Humans have nearly 8000 nerves in our feet and a large number of nerve endings near the skin. Having ticklish feet can be a good sign: reduced sensitivity can be an indicator of neuropathy.
  • Your big toe and genitals are neighbours…in your brain  – The somatosensory cortex of your brain receives sensory information from all over the body. The part of the cortex that receives input from your feet happens to adjacent to the area that receives information from your genitals. This proximity might explain foot fetishes – Some brain and cognition experts theorize that theorize that foot fetishes could possibly result from a cross-wiring in the brain between the foot and the genital sensory centers.
  • Guinness world record for most feet and armpits sniffed – When you realize there’s a job that primarily involves feet sniffing, you will be grateful about your job.  In the 15 years that Madeline Albrecht worked for an Ohio lab that tests Dr. Scholl products, she sniffed more than 5600 feet and untold numbers of armpits. Albrecht currently holds the Guinness World Record for—yes, this is a category—the number of feet and armpits sniffed.
  • Feet loved by mosquitoes – Research shows that mosquitoes prefer biting people with smelly feet. Now, this is perhaps not so surprising!

Leg Diseases & Ailments

  • Feet offer clues to your overall health – Leg and foot ailments can become your first sign of more serious medical problems. For example, if the hair on your toes suddenly disappears and the skin on your feet gets thinner or shiner, peripheral arterial disease (PAD)—poor circulation caused by a buildup of plaque in the leg arteries—may be to blame. PAD is a major red flag for heart problems or a stroke because clogged arteries in the legs are usually associated with blockages elsewhere in the body. Also look out for extremely dry skin and foot ulcers that don’t heal; they may be triggered by undiagnosed diabetes since high blood glucose levels decrease sweat and oil production.
  • Venous problems – Over 50% of men and women worldwide suffer from some type of vein problem including varicose and spider veins in their lower extremities.
  • Diabetes – About 60-70% of diabetics will develop some form of diabetic nerve damage, which in severe forms can lead to diabetic lower limb amputation. Approximately 56,000 people a year lose their foot or leg due to diabetes. Complications of diabetes include poor circulation and nerve damage that can lead to serious skin ulcers, which sometimes require amputation of toes or feet. In 2010 alone, 73,000 lower-limb amputations were performed on diabetics. If you have diabetes, check your feet daily for blisters, cuts, redness, and ulcers. If wounds are neglected, you might get an infection, which could lead to serious consequences, including amputation.
  • Two of the most common leg problems researched are – Heel pain and ingrown toenails
  • Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome – A common reason for feeling pain and burning in their feet.
  • Knee repair & replacement – Most modern knee replacements involve placing a metal cap over the end of the thigh bone, a plastic surface on top of the shin bone and a plastic kneecap; all held in place by cement or by new bone growth. The surgery is said to offer an improvement in mobility and quality of life similar to that seen after heart bypass surgery, though surgeons acknowledge that the joints don’t last forever, may offer limited bending and sometimes loosen or click and crunch. Repair can involve cartilage transplant from your own body or a deceased donor, or insertion of carbon fibre patches.
  • Arthritis – Arthritis is one of the most common knee diseases and occurs when the surfaces of the thigh and shin bone that make up the knee become rough due to wear and tear, inflammation, infection or gout.
  • Knee Swellings – ‘Housemaid’s knee’ and ‘clergyman’s knee’ are terms for swellings at the front of the knee caused by excessive kneeling.
  • Surprising Connections – A misaligned spine, lower backache, headaches, indigestion, and other health issues can be traced to problems with your feet.
  • PVD – Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD) of the arteries of the feet and legs can lead to pain on walking, ulceration, infection, and in severe cases—gangrene and possible amputation.
  • Go bare! – Going barefoot, especially on wet grass, soil, or sand, known as “earthing,” is excellent for your feet, joints, and other health benefits.
  • Women = Men x 4 – Women have about four times as many foot problems as men; lifelong patterns of wearing high heels often are the culprits.
  • Gout often begins in the big toe – Gout, a form of arthritis where sharp uric acid crystals build up in the body, frequently appears first as pain and swelling in the big toes, though researchers aren’t entirely sure why this is. Though long known as the “disease of kings” because it afflicted those with access to rich food and drink, gout is increasingly beginning to become common among  commoners too.
  • Yoga and legs – In yoga, the “legs up the wall” pose not only relieves tired or cramped legs, but it also eases anxiety and stress.
  • Heel pain – Over 2 million Americans seek treatment for plantar fasciitis (heel pain) each year.
  • Importance of cushioning your feet – Typically in a person’s 30-40’s, the natural fat pads on the bottoms of the feet made from collagen & elastin gradually thin out, causing foot pain by the end of the day unless properly cushioned footwear is worn.
  • Dancing on toes can hurt – Ballerinas are famous for their incredible ability to dance “en pointe,” or on their toes. The technique requires not just strength in the digits, but also support throughout the body to stay straight. Not surprisingly, though, dancing en pointe carries a great deal of risk with it. The Wikipedia article has a long list of potential injuries; among them are tendonitis, dermatitis, hammer toes, stress fractures and bunions.
  • The most common sports injuries – Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in sports. Because the inner ankle is more stable than the outer ankle, the foot is likely to turn inward from a fall (ankle inversion) which results in an ankle sprain.
  • Corns and calluses – Corns and calluses are caused by friction and pressure from skin rubbing against bony areas when wearing shoes. If the first signs of soreness are ignored, corns and calluses rise up as nature’s way of protecting sensitive areas.
  • Calf muscle ailments – calf muscles alone can be affected by seven different ailments: calf muscle strain, pulled calf muscle, calf muscle tear, calf muscle rupture, calf muscle myositis (inflammation), Rhabdomyolysis (calf muscle breakdown) and calf muscle cancer

Coming soon…

  • Sections on legs and mythology, legs and spirituality…

Other Useful & Wonderful Web Resources

  • Muscles of the leg & foot – a crisp, visually well presented web resource on every muscle in our legs and feet – from Inner Body