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Release Tibialis Anterior and Peroneals Fascia to Relieve Pain on TOPS of Feet, Shin Splints, Foot Cramps and More

If you have tendonitis or pain on the TOPS of your feet, cramping on the BOTTOMS of your feet, shin splints or a strained/pulled soleus muscle then you are going to LOVE this. (And those are just a FEW of the things this technique can help with).

TOOLS NEEDED: Lacrosse ball and 25+lb weight plate (most gyms have both of these).

Please take the necessary steps to do this with the same equipment I’m using in the video, because I want you to get the BEST result, and you will NOT get the same result using a tennis ball, golf ball, soft ball or any ball without a weight plate.

Let’s look at some anatomy shall we? (Hello my fellow body/anatomy nerds!)

The fascia here affects SO MANY things:

Remember, it’s the FASCIA we’re after in terms of releasing tissue, not any particular muscle(s).

The muscles are important though because they indicate which direction(s) the tissues move in terms of shortening and lengthening and acting on various joints – and it’s where and how the tissues are being asked to move combined with the fascial restrictions within the muscle groups that is what creates the pain patterns I’m about to talk about.

Tibialis anterior:

Otherwise known as the “shin muscle,” tibialis anterior (or TA for short) attaches laterally at the top of the tibia, near the knee, and (via its distal tendon) attaches to the medial cuneiform (a bone on the inside of the foot) and first two metatarsals (which lead to the big toe bones).

Got BIG TOE issues? This is definitely something to check!

TA dorsiflexes the ankle and inverts the foot.

Peroneals:

All three peroneal muscles attach to the fibula and metatarsals of the foot.

Here is where things get interesting: all three of these muscles evert the foot, but two peroneal muscles – fibularis or peroneus longus and fibularis or peroneus brevis – plantarflex the foot while fibularis or peroneus tertius dorsiflexes it!

So between tibialis anterior and the peroneals all acting on the foot in opposing ways, it’s no surprise that if the fascia gets clogged, tight, dehydrated or stuck…ANY of these actions of the foot could become confused leading to dysfunction (or pain) anywhere downstream of the knee – the ankle and retinaculum, the tops of the feet and toes, the plantar fascia, pain with eversion or inversion…and possibly pain upstream as well, due to gait changes or how the ankle affects the knee which affects the hip, etc.

Let’s explore the most common issues this release technique will help relieve:

Cramping on the bottoms of the feet:

When the fascia within TA (tibialis anterior) is restricted, dehydrated or knotted up, it can pull on the bottoms of the foot. This is ONE reason it can cause cramping on the bottoms of the foot.

The OTHER reason is due to reciprocal inhibition: TA and the gastronomic muscle (the posterior calf muscle) are opposing muscle groups. One (TA) performs dorsiflexion or flexing the foot at the ankle towards the shin. The other (gastrocs) perform plantar flexion, or flexing the foot downward, toes pointed, like a ballerina.

If you ask the gastrocs to contract to point your toes, the TA must lengthen to allow this movement, and if it is shortened or restricted something will prevent you from completing the movement, and it’s often cramping on the bottoms of the foot.

Tendonitis or pain on the TOPS of the feet:

It’s my opinion that tendonitis happens most frequently due to fascial restrictions, which causes a lack of blood flow, nerve ennervation and general irritation of an area that isn’t as free or nourished (by blood) as it needs to be to feel healthy.

You can clearly see from the above picture how the fascial “line” of the tibialis anterior and peroneals (not to mention the extensors of the toes, which reside here also) lead to the tops of the feet, via the retinaculum – that white connective tissue wrapping the ankle.

The theory or science here is pretty simple: the fascia within that lateral compartment gets dehydrated and stuck to itself, blood stops flowing as well through the area and retinaculum to the tops of the feet, which become irritated and no longer function optimally.

Shin splints:

This area is not the ONLY area that contributes to shin splints, so if you’re looking for complete relief please see my ONE stretch post by clicking here.

My personal theory on shin splints, which occur most often in runners (but not always, you might be a martial artist or dancer and that wouldn’t surprise me in the least) is that all the fascia within the lower leg compartment is getting restricted, dehydrated and brittle and has LOST ITS SPRING.

When you run or do any kind of impact sport, your fascia can no longer absorb the pounding and your BONES take the hit. I have another post on this theory if you want more information (click here). I won’t be going into detail on any of these patterns today, since there are a lot here!

Soleus strain or sprain:

This has to do with reciprocol inhibition, and if you want more detailed information that, click here. Basically, if you’ve strained or pulled your soleus muscle, the first place I would look as the culprit is the TA/peroneals, which can inhibit the soleus and cause a stretch reflex.

How to get the most out of this technique:

  • Please find a lacrosse ball and weight plate. I don’t know how to do this where it works (well, anyway) with ANY other tools. If you try using a golf ball, soft ball or tennis ball, or any of these without the weight plate it just will NOT work very well. The fascia needs COMPRESSION and something slightly sticky or grippy (the lacrosse ball is PERFECT) in order to change itself.
  • Make all of your movements intentional and VERY thorough – when you point your toes, REALLY point them. Same with flexing up towards the shin.
  • The absolute BEST way to get the most out of this is to invert the foot and THEN, while inverted, plantar and dorsiflex.
  • You know you have a good spot when it feels tender or sore.
  • Spend approximately 20-40 seconds on EACH spot.
  • This is a long area, so you might find anywhere from 3-6 spots.
  • DO NOT PUT THE BALL OR WEIGHT PLATE ON YOUR SHIN BONE!
  • Make sure to TEST whether you need this release very close to the bone or more toward the peroneals. OR BOTH. Do whatever makes sense for YOUR body (we’re all a little different depending on our lifestyle and activities).
  • If you’re working on a pain issue, give this a try once a day for a week or so.
  • It’s entirely likely you’ll need ADDITIONAL techniques to get any of the issues I talk about in this article 100% eliminated. I have most of the ones you’ll need on this site, but without knowing more about your particular issue I would have a hard time recommending anything. Anything calf or ITB related would likely be good!

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6 Comments

  • Colleen says:

    Hi there– I’m wondering if you think this might help with medial shin/ankle pain? I’m not sure what is causing this pain. I had an injury to this area a few years ago –there was no accident so I’m not sure what caused it–except for impact. The pain has started to return and I DON’T notice it while I’m running (I have had shin splints in the past–which did hurt while running). I DO notice it while placing weight on my foot in specific positions– it is a splintering type of pain– sharp that runs from lower, medial shin into the ankle a bit. It doesn’t sound like what I’ve read about Post tib. tendonitis–I don’t have flat feet and can balance and lift the heel of that foot quite easily with no pain. When I use a wobble board (the circle kind) I can feel it sharply in certain positions of my ankle– but it’s not always predictable. I feel it when stepping into certain positions in yoga as well–I can almost anticipate it. The feeling is like jumping out of a swing– the impact of splintering pain. NO swelling, redness, etc.

  • Tom says:

    Hi

    Can chronic tightness in the muscles/fascia you were targeting in the video be a cause for what feels to me like a tendon getting caught in the retinaculum?

    On bad days, my ankle won’t flex properly, causing sharp pain in the top of the foot, at the area where the superior extensor retinaculum occurs (based on my Google research). Walking down stairs causes this.

    If I get some massage, it feels good for day or so, and the ankle flexes properly.

    Thanks

    Tom

    • Hey Tom – it sounds like you might also have some tight fascia in the posterior calf compartment, maybe your gastrocnemius, soleus or posterior tibialis. If you have pain through a range of motion like flexing your foot, the likely culprit is actually opposite the muscle giving you pain. So that would indicate either your plantar fascia or any of the posterior muscles I just mentioned. – Elisha

      • Tom Rose says:

        Thanks Elisha

        My pilates instructor has got me rolling a lacrosse ball under my feet.
        I will focus on that for a while and see how it goes.

        Tom

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