Stretching pt 8- Shin/Outer Ankle

In the introduction post to this series, we reviewed and answered some common questions regarding stretching, including why, when, how, etc. Click here to review it.

In this post we will be talking about stretches specifically for the front of the shin and outside of the lower leg. This includes the anterior tibialis muscle (most common location for shin splints), the long toe extensors (muscles that pull your toes up towards the ceiling) where they move across the top of the foot, and the peroneals (skinny little muscles that run down the outside of your lower leg and wrap behind the outer ankle bone).

The Rules:

1) Stretching should NEVER hurt. The goal is to only go until you feel a pull in the muscle. It should not be to go until it hurts in one of those “no pain, no gain” efforts. It should be comfortable and repeatable, allowing you to move a little further with each repetition.2) Perform stretches when the muscles are warmed up. This can be following a workout or following work with the foam roller. Click here to review the self massage post for the front of the shin/outside of the lower leg (this includes pictures and video using a foam roller and tennis ball to review 3 self muscle release techniques).

2) Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times. You can hold longer than the 20 seconds, but the reps are key. You will always get more out of stretching frequently versus one killer session a week.

3) If hurt- be sure to stretch the opposing muscle groups. For the front/outside of the lower leg, this means the back of the calf (gastroc and soleus), as well as, the inside of the lower leg (posterior tibialis). If it is too painful to stretch out the front of the shin/outer ankle due to injury, focus on these groups instead and work your way up  to stretching the injury itself. Always start at level 1 and work you way up.

The progression:

#1 Seated Anterior Tib/Shin/Top of foot

To start this stretch, cross one leg over the other  so that the ankle is free to move. From here you want start by curling your toes down using your hand NOT the muscles of your foot. The foot and ankle should be completely relaxed as you do this. Once the toes are curled down, then you can pull the entire foot/ankle down. If you feel a huge stretch on top of the foot with the first part, hold there for a count of 20 and then pull the ankle down so that the stretch moves up the front of the shin. Shoot for 20-30 seconds and repeat 4 times.

#2 Standing Top of foot/shin

To progress the stretch above move to a standing position. From here approach the stretch as a two parter just like you did for the first one. Curl the toes first and then push the ankle forward (this will move the foot/ankle into that pointed down position). Remember- keep the foot/ankle relaxed. bend your knee and push the ankle forward to increase the stretch. 20-30 second holds and repeat 4 times.

#3 Sitting on your heels

Obviously, if you have knee problems- skip this one. :) That being said. Start in a kneeling position with the top of your foot flat on the floor (not curved in like the picture above! sorry about that). The goal is to keep the foot and ankle all in a straight line without curving in or out. From here, try to sit back on your heels. Go easy. This will allow you put you full body weight over the front of your ankle. If you haven't done it before don't assume that you can and ease back versus falling back. Try to keep the top of your foot on the ground the entire time (if your ankles are tight this may be harder than you think! stick with it.) Hold 20-30 seconds, repeat 4 times.

#4 Seated peroneal/outer ankle

For this one you're going to need a strap or belt. Loop it around the middle of your foot. Keep the ankle nice and relaxed and then twist the strap so that your foot tilts in. Think of it like the classic ankle roll position. If you've ever sprained your ankle, this is most likely how you did it! Keep the foot/ankle nice and relaxed and let the strap do ALL of the work. Hold 20-30 seconds and repeat 4 times.

#5 Standing peroneal

For the last one, move up into a standing position. this will allow you to put more weight into the stretch. Keep the foot/ankle nice and relaxed and use the rest of the leg to roll the ankle over onto it's side. go easy to start and build into it. Hold 20-30 seconds and repeat 4 times.