Medical Definition of Phalanx

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

Phalanx: Anatomically, any one of the bones in the fingers or toes. (Plural: phalanges.) There are 3 phalanges (the proximal, middle, and distal phalanx) in most of the fingers and toes. However, the thumb and large toe have only two phalanges that accounts for their being shorter.

A "phalanx" in ancient Greece was a military formation composed of heavily armed troops in close deep ranks. The soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, several rows deep, often with their shields joined. A phalanx was a formidable group that was difficult to penetrate.

The bones in the fingers and toes were first called "phalanges" by the Greek philosopher-scientist Aristotle (384-322 BC) because they are arranged in ranks suggesting the military formation.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018