July 05, 2021
It’s crucial to stretch and exercise the tibialis anterior to avoid potential pain in the future.You might not be familiar with the scientific name tibialis anterior but most people will be made aware of it if they’ve ever experienced the unpleasant pain of shin splints.
Anytime you walk, run or jump your tibialis anterior muscle is working to move you forward via ankle flexion (dorsiflexion). This article will go over the 9 best stretches for the tibialis anterior muscle plus a few strengthening exercises. We'll then give you a few massage techniques to help to relax the tibialis anterior muscle to reduce pain.
The tibialis anterior name is derived from the Latin words tibia meaning shinebone and anterior from the word ante meaning before. The anterior tibialis is found on the anterior (front) of the lower leg. This muscle is on the lateral side of the tibia with muscle fibers that run vertically down the leg ending in a tendon. The tibialis anterior starts on the lateral condyle (a round protruding piece of bone at the end of some bones creating an articulation with another bone) of the tibia and inserts into the plantar and medial surfaces of the medial cuneiform bone (largest bone in the upper foot).
The tibialis anterior is the largest of the dorsiflexor muscles and is responsible for ankle dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot. It supports the ankle in horizontal movement as it inverts the ankle helping to reduce damage if the ankle is rolled.
Walking, running and any other movement that requires the leg to move is supported by the tibialis anterior. The tibialis anterior muscle stabilizes the ankle when the foot comes into contact with the ground while walking it then helps to lift the foot off the ground. Apart from helping with this eccentric muscle contraction (hitting the ground) and concentric muscle contraction (lifting off of ground) phases of walking it also holds the ankle in place during isometric contraction, think of when your ankle is flexed and your toes are pointing upwards.
Tight anterior tibialis muscles can be rather annoying as it makes the simple task of walking unpleasant. The causes of tight tibialis anterior can lead to shin splints and can be a result of any of the following:
Everyone should stretch and strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle. This relatively small muscle is vital to our movement so if you walk then you should be doing tibialis anterior stretches and exercises. This is especially true for anyone who partakes in running or jumping activities. A strong and relaxed tibialis anterior muscle can help counteract the negative side effects of the high impact of your feet hitting the ground constantly.
Just like any other muscle, it's beneficial to stretch and strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle. By keeping this lower leg muscle supple and sturdy you'll be able to move freely without pain for longer periods of time plus your legs will look great from the front!
If you add tibialis anterior stretches and exercises into your training program you'll reap the following benefits:
Stretching and strengthening the tibialis anterior muscle can lessen your chances of experiencing anterior tibialis pain or shin splints. This often overlooked muscle in the lower leg needs more attention. When stretching or exercising the lower legs many people focus their efforts on the calves. It's important to include the tibialis anterior muscle stretching and exercising into your routine to avoid disparity between the front and back of your lower legs.
Let's get into it...
Note: Get a deeper stretch by lifting your knees off the floor, pressing your upper feet into the ground with your hands on the floor front of you for support.
Strengthening the tibialis anterior is a vital to strong lower legs but most neglect training this muscle. People will often train the calf muscles giving little attention to the opposing tibialis anterior muscle. This can lead to muscle imbalances resulting in pain or injury. There are a number of ways to strengthen the tibialis anterior muscle with resistance. Below are three beginner bodyweight exercises to start incorporating into your leg workouts then you can progress into using more resistance.
Note: You can also add in some isometric tibialis anterior exercises into the mix if recovering from injury. To do these you'll flex your ankle up to press against an object without moving it to create steady contraction.
Note: Repeat this exercise but walk only on the balls of your feet to stretch and strengthen your calves and tibialis anterior.
Related: 28 Greatest Gastrocnemius Exercises
Self-massage or trigger point therapy on the tibialis anterior can help to ease the tightness and pain in the muscle. If you were wondering how you can massage the tibialis anterior, we have you covered with these few easy techniques to relax the tibialis anterior. These massages can be done at home with as little as a massage ball or even a tennis ball.
Note: This can also be done by moving laterally across the muscle rather than vertically.
Note: You can also do this with just your fingers by pressing into the trigger points.
The most common cause of pain in the tibialis anterior is overuse. Runners commonly suffer from this pain often called shin splints. Journal of Orthopedic & Sports Physical Therapy reported that shin splints accounted for 10.7 percent of injuries to male runners while they accounted for 16.8 percent of injuries for female runners. The high impact toll that running takes on the body means that tibialis anterior stretching should be a consistent part of any runner's training program.
Shin splint pain will generally dissipate a little after you’ve warmed up but stress fractures will continue to get worse if you don’t stop physical activity. A doctor will diagnose stress fractures via physical examination, X-ray, MRI or bone scan. Stress fractures require immediately stopping any physical exercise that might have caused it. Stress fractures can take anywhere from two to eight weeks to heal. Low impact exercises such as swimming or biking can be done to help the recovery process. In the worst cases a crutch or even a cast may be needed.
Most of the time pain from shin splints will go away in two to four weeks after the legs have had time to heal. Once healed people can resume their training but it is important to include tibialis anterior stretches as a regular part of your regimen.
Keep in mind that shin splints should be taken seriously and treated as such so they don’t lead to stress fractures which will have you out of action for up to a few months. As soon as you start to feel any pain from shin splints then you should begin to do shin splint stretches.
Yes! Myofascial release, trigger point therapy or deep tissue massage will help to ease shin splint pain. The combination of massage, stretching and strengthening will help speed up the recovery time from shin splints.
Medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS) A.K.A shin splints happen when too much stress is put on the tibia or the when the tibialis anterior muscle is overworked. To prevent shin splits from happening in the first place you can take the following precautions.
It’s important to pinpoint the exact issue causing you pain in the tibialis anterior region. You could be experiencing pain from your knee down to your big toe. These symptoms are often experienced when the foot is flexed upward during daily activities such as walking, running, climbing stairs or even seemingly easy movements like lifting your foot off the gas/brake pedals while driving.
These symptoms may come and go throughout the day be on going depending on the severity of the strain or the stress the muscles have gone through.
The common symptoms of tibialis anterior strain are felt in the lower front leg, ankle and/or foot.
Anterior tibialis tendonitis is the inflammation of the tibialis anterior tendon or the degradation of the tendon sheath (a thin layer of tissue that helps protect tendons from damage during movement). One thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting anterior tibialis tendonitis is to wear the proper size shoes.
Symptoms of tibialis anterior tendonitis
Symptoms of tibialis anterior tendonitis can feel similar to tibialis anterior muscle strain. People will often fell stiffness or pain on the front of the ankle. Overuse, especially high impact activities on hard surfaces is the most common cause of this problem that will have you experiencing pain when lifting the toes or foot. Other factors that can lead to tibialis anterior tendonitis are bad foot biomechanics, wearing the wrong shoes, or tight lower leg muscles.
How long does tibialis anterior tendonitis take to heal?
Treatments of tibialis anterior tendonitis are similar to treating tibialis anterior muscle strain of RICE(Rest Ice Compression Elevation), stretching, exercises to strengthen, balance training and even orthotics. Recovery can take a few weeks up to a few months depending on the severity of the inflammation. Catching this early on before it becomes a big problem will shorten the recovery period.
You should figure the original cause of the tibialis anterior pain if you want to properly treat it. Next, consult with a doctor who can diagnose then medically treat the pain. A normal protocol to follow until you can visit a medical professional is the RICE method.
A strong and healthy tibialis anterior muscle is necessary if you want to continue your normal exercise routine without being sidelined due to unneccessary pain. Add a few anterior tibialis stretches and exercises into your training program to keep your lower legs pain free.
More Resources on Leg Stretches & Exercises:
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