About a year ago I was having pain in my left big toe, just at the first joint.
It was beginning to bug me. My first thought was, since I’m a massage therapist, I’ll just massage the big toe. Maybe there’s a tight muscle that’s causing the problem. Unfortunately, nothing happened. It didn’t get better. My next thought was to massage the whole foot, again nothing got better. Then, my big toe on my right foot started hurting at the same joint! I was starting to get a little frustrated.
I remembered that in Chinese medicine a certain area of the neck correlates to the neck of the big toe, which was where I was was having the issues. “Maybe it’s just letting me know my neck is too tight”. So I massaged my neck, and Brian massaged my neck. The work did wonders for my neck, but it didn’t help the big toes.
I was starting to think that I might be dealing with arthritis. I really didn’t want to think about that. Then one day I was at our office and while I working on a client and my eyes just glanced at the referral pain chart that hangs on the wall. I saw a common referral pain pattern to the big toe. I thought, “Ah-ha! Could that be it?” This was about a year ago when Brian had started developing the Ultimate Foam Roller Blue Print. Brian and I sat down and used the foam roller to work on the muscle that could have been creating the pain referral to my big toes.
I started off with the basic technique. The muscles of both the legs were tender and tight. As I worked on them the pain in my toes lessened. “Ok Brain, what’s the next step?”
This is when Brian introduced me to the intermediate techniques. I started working right away on the muscles of both legs. As I worked the pain in my big toe continued to get less.
In a couple of days I was ready for the advanced techniques. And I was amazed at how much deeper I was working the muscles and it how tender they were, but I worked through it and the muscular pain went away. I stayed consistent with the foam rolling and the tenderness in the front of my lower leg is gone and the pain in my big toes are gone!!
What Christina had was what is called a Muscle Referral Pain Pattern.
A Muscular Referral Pain Pattern is a hyper-irritated spot in a muscle, but instead of the pain being right there where it is tight, it sends the pain somewhere else. The cause of the pain was in the muscle in the lower leg, but she was feeling it in the big toe. This muscle has a pain referral that goes right down the whole front of your lower leg. You can feel pain in the ankle. You can even have pain on the top of the foot, and pain all the way into the big toe.
Which muscle was causing Christina so much trouble?
There are several muscles that can refer pain to the big toe. For Christina it was the muscle called Tibialis Anterior. It is located on the outside portion of the front of the lower leg (the shin). If you take your hand and place it on the bone in the front of your lower leg just below your kneecap, slide your hand toward the outside (pinkie side) of the bone. As you drop off the bone you’ll feel a more smushy area. This is roughly the start of this muscle. Run your hand down the front of the lower leg to just above the ankle. This is the location of this muscle and the tendon continues into the foot.
There are actually 2 other muscles in this area, we’re just going to talk about the largest one, Tibialis Anterior. So how do you know if this area is tight, For Christina, it showed up as a pain pattern in her big toe. You can have tenderness just below the knee, all along the front of that lower leg, and even into the bone. There are some other signs such as stiffness in the foot, and stiffness in movement of the foot. A good way to know if its tight is to feel it. Go ahead and run your hand up and down the muscle with some pressure or just push into the muscle at several points and if it tender then its tight.
What does this muscle do?
Tibialis Anterior pulls the foot inward and upward. This muscle can have an impact in helping get the front of the foot up and out of the way as we swing our leg forward, and in getting the foot in the right position for it to land on the ground. Not only can this muscle cause us pain it can also affect the way the foot lands on the ground, and it can affect the way our leg swings forward as we walk. A tight Tibialis Anterior, if allowed to get tighter can contribute to anterior shin splints, or even worse compartmental syndrome. Again dealing with a tight muscle is a lot easier then waiting for other complications.
This muscle is one of 3 in the front of the lower leg and 1 of 12 in the lower leg. It a great example of how just one tight muscle can impact our daily lives. Tightness in this muscle can impact any athlete who runs such as runners sprinters, soccer players. But also swimmers and the martial arts.
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