The Kneeling Anterior Tibialis Stretch

Shin splints may prevent you from running.
Your physical therapist can help evaluate and treat your shin splints. Getty Images

If you have shin splints, an ankle injury, or decreased ankle mobility, your physical therapist can help you regain normal mobility again.  Sometimes limited range of motion (ROM) in your ankle is caused by tightness in muscles and tendons surrounding your lower leg and foot.

The anterior tibialis muscle is located in the front of your shin bone.  This muscle functions to help pull your foot and toes up from the floor.

 When your anterior tibialis is weak or paralyzed, foot drop results and causes a high steppage gait pattern.

Your ankle and foot ROM may become limited after injury or illness.  A period of immobilization in a cast or brace may cause tightness in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support your ankle.  Stretching of your anterior tibialis muscle may be necessary to improve your ankle's mobility and restore normal ROM in your ankle.

Common Conditions that May Benefit Anterior Tibialis Stretching

An injury to your lower leg or foot may cause loss of ankle ROM and tightness in your anterior tibialis muscle.  Weakness in this muscle may also require gentle stretching to get the anterior tibialis moving again.  These injuries and conditions may include:

How Do I Know if My Anterior Tibialis Needs to Be Stretched?

Your physical therapist is trained to measure your joint motion and determine if anterior tibialis stretching is appropriate for you.  In general, if you are having difficulty pointing your foot and toes down, anterior tibialis tightness may be to blame.  If you are having difficulty pulling your foot up from the floor, then your anterior tibialis is weak.

Here's a simple way to assess your ankle mobility:

  • Sit on your bed with your legs out in front of you and your feet over the edge of the bed.
  • Point both ankles down, and look for differences in the amount of motion.
  • If one ankle does not point down as far as the other, your anterior tibialis may be tight.

If you are suffering from foot drop, anterior tibialis weakness may be the culprit.  Still, stretching and moving your anterior tibialis muscle to its end range may benefit your condition.

After a period of immobilization, your ankle may be tight in many different directions.  Stretching your anterior tibialis may help to improve your ankle's ability to flex downward while pointing your toes.

How to Stretch Your Anterior Tibialis Using the Kneeling Technique

Before starting this or any other exercise, consult with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that the exercise is safe and appropriate for you to do.

To stretch your anterior tibialis muscle in the front of your ankle follow these simple steps:

  1. Get in the half-kneeling position with one knee on the floor, like you are genuflecting.  The anterior tibialis muscle to be stretched should be on the floor.  A small pillow can be used to cushion your knee.
  2. Be sure your toes and ankle are pointed down, and gently provide extra pressure be leaning back and pressing your heel towards the floor.  This should elongate the anterior tibialis muscle in the front of your lower leg.
  3. Hold the stretched position for 15 to 30 seconds, and gently release the stretch by taking pressure off your heel and ankle.
  4. Repeat the stretch 3 to 5 times.

Remember, a gentle pull should be felt in the front of your ankle or lower leg while stretching your anterior tibialis muscle.  If pain or abnormal sensation occurs, stop the stretch and consult your doctor or physical therapist.

Stretching your anterior tibialis muscle is a simple way to improve your ankle mobility and ROM after injury.  Performing the anterior tibialis stretch may help keep your ankle moving normally and freely and prevent future problems with limited ankle mobility.

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