Muscles of the Anterior Lower Leg: Tibialis Anterior
In this article you’ll find out everything you need to know about the functional anatomy of the tibialis anterior muscle – location, size, shape (appearance), function (muscle action), insertion, origin, and palpation. Finally, you’ll find the best ways how to exercise this important lower leg muscle that is often unfairly neglected.
The lower leg contains 10 different muscles. They are simply essential bodily structures located between the knee and the ankle. Three lower leg muscles are particularly well known. The first two are the calf muscles: gastrocnemius and the soleus. They are without any doubt the most powerful muscles in the lower leg. The third one is the tibialis anterior muscle.
Other lower leg muscles include:
- tibialis posterior (ankle inversion);
- peroneus longus and peroneus brevis (ankle eversion); and
- the toe flexors and extensors (flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, extensor digitorum longus, extensor hallucis longus)
Location of the Tibialis Anterior Muscle
The tibialis anterior muscle is a lower leg muscle that lies anteriorly, as the name suggests. In other words, this muscle lies on the anterior portion (compartment) of the lower leg on the lateral side of the tibia.
The tibia is the larger, stronger, and anterior (frontal) of the two shinbones in the leg below the knee (the other being the fibula), and it connects the knee with the ankle bones.
The other two muscles within the anterior compartment are extensor halluces longus and extensor digitorum longus.
The tibialis anterior muscle is a long and narrow muscle. It is thick and fleshy above, tendinous below. The fibers of this muscle run vertically downward, and end in a tendon, which is apparent on the anterior surface of the muscle at the lower third of the leg.
Functions of the Tibialis Anterior
This lower leg muscle is responsible for:
- dorsiflexion (flexing the ankle so that the toes move toward the shins) and
- inversion of the ankle (movement of the sole towards the median plane)
- stabilizing the ankle during foot contact with the ground
Dorsiflexion is an important movement for walking, jogging, and especially sprinting.
The points of attachment – origin and insertion
Tibialis anterior originates from the upper half and the lateral condyle of the tibia.
This muscle inserts into the medial cuneiform and first metatarsal bones of the foot.
- Client supine
- Therapist standing to the side of the client
- Palpating hand not yet placed on the client
- Support hand placed on the medial side of the distal foot
- Resist the client from dorsiflexing and inverting the foot and look for the distal tendon of the tibialis anterior on the medial side of the foot; it is usually visible (Figure A).
- Palpate the distal tendon by strumming perpendicularly across it. Continue palpating the tibialis anterior proximally tot the lateral tibial condyle by strumming perpendicular to the fibers. Its belly is located directly lateral to the border of the tibia in the anterior leg (Figure B).
- Once the tibialis anterior muscles has been found, have the client relax it and palpate to assess its baseline tone.
To clearly discern the border between the tibialis anterior and the adjacent extensor digitorum longus (EDL), use inversion and eversion. Inversion will engage the tibialis anterior but not the EDL; eversion will engage the EDL but not the tibialis anterior.
The tibialis anterior muscle is innervated by the deep peroneal nerve, a branch of the common peroneal nerve.
Exercises for the tibialis anterior muscle
The front lower leg muscles are quite possibly the most likely to be forgotten in weight training. In any case, workouts and exercises almost always favor their rear counterparts (basically, the calf muscles). This is clearly an error. Although some parts of the body may be moderately undertrained, they should never be completely ignored.
If you strengthen only the larger and stronger calf muscles, they will eventually overpower the smaller and weaker shin muscles, which may lead to shin splints, stress fractures, and Achilles tendon problems. With this in mind, we recommend that runners always conclude strength training workouts with a set of weighted toe raises to strengthen the shin muscles and maintain muscular balance in the lower-leg musculature.
The tibialis anterior can be targeted by using the dynamic axial resistance device (DARD), a small piece of exercise equipment designed specifically for doing dorsiflexion, inversion, and eversion exercises or by doing resistance-band dorsiflexion or heel walking.
Here are the detailed descriptions of all major exercises targeting tibialis anterior muscle.
Shin Splints or Tibial Stress Syndrome
Common term for pain in the anterior compartment of the leg caused by irritation of the tibialis anterior muscle as might follow extreme or unusual exercise without adequate prior conditioning. Because it is tightly wrapped by fascia, the inflamed tibialis anterior cuts off its own circulation as it swells and presses painfully on its own nerves.
The tibialis anterior muscle is the muscle located in the front part of the shin bone of your lower leg. The muscle courses from an area just below your knee, down the front of your shin, and finally attaches to the top of your foot. You can feel this muscles contract by placing your hand just to the outside of the tibia and pulling your foot up.
They are simple muscles to exercise, either on your own or with a resistance band. Because they are simple, they are also easy to forget, until they start to hurt during your workout. Putting a little effort into working on your shins can make running and other exercises more pleasant, which can allow you to do even more.