Tibialis Anterior: Learn Your Muscles

If you are a runner, you may have already experienced tibialis anterior dysfunction. Frequently, the impact from your foot on the ground can cause shin splints. This painful muscular problem doesn’t just side-line your running program, it makes you question the necessity of every step you take. Shin splints are no joke.

Here’s information about how to avoid shin splints and keep your tibialis anterior healthy and happy.

Location

tibialis anterior
Thanks to the University of Michigan for use of this image.

The tibialis anterior originates on the upper half of the lateral, anterior surface of tibia. You may remember that the tibia and fibula are the bones in your shin. The tibia is medial (toward the midline of your body), and the fibula is lateral (away from the midline of your body).

I mention this because if you’re trying to find the origin of the tibialis anterior, you should look just toward the outside of center of the shin. Remember, the lateral surface of the tibia is right next to the fibula. So, you won’t want to look on the outside of the leg.

The tibialis anterior inserts on the medial edge of front of foot. Technically, the insertion is on the medial cuneiform bone and base of first metatarsal. This means this muscle crosses the ankle joint.

Function

The tibialis anterior dorsiflexes your foot. Dorsiflexion is the action of lifting the foot toward the shin. This lift is essential for walking. As your leg reaches in front of you and your foot flexes at the ankle, your body prepares to take its step.

The tibialis anterior also inverts the foot. Inversion is when the sole of your foot turns toward the midline of your body. If you feel like you apply more pressure to the outside edges of your feet when you’re walking, you’re inverting your feet.

Common Dysfunction

Injury can occur from excessive jumping onto hard surfaces. This includes running. Many runners have tibialis anterior dysfunction, although they may not realize it. More commonly, tibialis anterior dysfunction is called shin splints.

I have had shin splints before, and this pain is no joke! Essentially, the whole front of your shin is on fire and every step you take feels like a sick experiment in a pain management study. Rest, elevation, ice, and over the counter pain medicine will help make you more comfortable while you heal. Unfortunately, this recovery requires time and compliance.

As with all muscular issues, there are varying degrees of injury, so if you feel like you need to see your physician, go! Your physician can order appropriate imaging, medicine, and physical therapy to help you recover.

Restoring or Maintaining Health

Frequently, injury to the tibialis anterior happens when people overexert. Make sure that you’re doing an appropriate amount of activity in a day, and don’t over-do it. Also, wear shoes that are appropriate. Just in case you missed my advice on selecting shoes, here it is.

Because of its location, the tibialis anterior is a tricky muscle to stretch. I recommend the yoga pose Virasana or, its modification Thunderbolt pose. In Thunderbolt pose, you sit with your legs in parallel, as opposed to medially rotated like in Virasana.

In addition to stretching, you can also use the foam roller or another rolling device. I’ll warn you, tibialis anterior stretches and rolling often is uncomfortable, but it’s a lot better than shin splints!

More Information

I consulted The Concise Book of Muscles by Chris Jarmey. Recently, the book was revised and is in its third edition. For some reason, the Amazon link wouldn’t pull up, but I did find the newest edition of the book on Amazon.

Personally, I have the first edition, but I can’t say enough about how often I consult this book. If you are interested in anatomy but not in text books, I highly recommend this book. There are wonderful drawings of the muscles and the facing page has concise text about the muscle, what it does, and self stretches for tightness.

What do you do to keep your tibialis anterior healthy? Let us know in the comments below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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