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Biology LibreTexts

14.1: Case Study: Your Support System

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  • Case Study: A Pain in the Foot

    Melissa loves wearing high heels when she goes out at night, like the stiletto heels shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\). She knows they are not the most practical shoes, but she likes how they look. Lately, she has been experiencing pain in the balls of her feet — the area just behind the toes. Even when she trades her heels for comfortable sneakers, it still hurts when she stands or walks.

    Fashion, Shoes, High, Heels, Style, Footwear, Female
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): (CC By 2.0; stokpic; via

    What could be going on? She searches online to try to find some answers. She finds a reputable source for foot pain information — a website from a professional organization of physicians that peer reviews the content by experts in the field. There, she reads about a condition called metatarsalgia, which produces pain in the ball of the foot that sounds very similar to what she is experiencing.

    She learns that a common cause of metatarsalgia is the wearing of high heels because they push the foot into an abnormal position. This results in excessive pressure being placed onto the ball of the foot. Looking at the photograph above, you can imagine how much of the woman’s body weight is focused on the ball of her foot because of the shape of her high heels. If she were not wearing high heels, her weight would be more evenly distributed across her foot.

    As she reads more about the hazards of high heels, Melissa learns that they can also cause foot deformities such as hammertoes and bunions; small cracks in the bone called stress fractures, and may even contribute to the development of osteoarthritis of the knees at an early age.

    These conditions caused by high heels are all problems of the skeletal system, which includes bones and connective tissues that hold bones together and cushion them at joints such as the knee. The skeletal system supports the body’s weight and protects internal organs, but as you will learn as you read this chapter, it also carries out a variety of other important physiological functions.

    At the end of the chapter, you will find out why high heels can cause these skeletal system problems and the steps Melissa takes to recover from her foot pain and prevent long-term injury.

    Chapter Overview: Skeletal System

    In this chapter, you will learn about the structure, functions, growth, repair, and disorders of the skeletal system. Specifically, you will learn about:

    • The components of the skeletal system, which includes bones, ligaments, and cartilage.
    • The functions of the skeletal system, which includes: supporting and giving shape to the body; protecting internal organs; facilitating movement; producing blood cells; helping maintain homeostasis, and producing endocrine hormones.
    • The organization and functions of the two main divisions of the skeletal system: the axial skeletal system which includes the skull, spine, and rib cage; and the appendicular skeletal system which includes the limbs and girdles that attach the limbs to the axial skeleton.
    • The tissues and cells that make up bones, and their specific functions which include: making new bone, breaking down bone, producing blood cells, and regulating mineral homeostasis.
    • The different types of bones in the skeletal system, based on shape and location.
    • How bones grow, remodel, and repair themselves.
    • The different types of joints between bones, where they are located, and the ways in which they allow different types of movement depending on their structure.
    • The causes, risk factors, and treatments for the two most common disorders of the skeletal system — osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.

    As you read this chapter, think about the following questions:

    1. Melissa suspects she has a condition called metatarsalgia. This term is related to the term “metatarsals.” What are metatarsals, where are they located, and how do you think they are related to metatarsalgia?

    2. High heels can cause stress fractures, which are small cracks in the bone that usually appear after repeated mechanical stress, instead of after a significant acute injury. What another condition described in this chapter involves a similar process?

    3. What are bunions and osteoarthritis of the knee? Why do you think they can be caused by wearing high heels?