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June, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 06

Achilles Tendon and Foot Pain Caused by Tibialis Posterior

By David Kent, LMT, NCTMB

When patients report subjective complaints of posterior leg (calf) and sole (bottom) of foot pain when walking or running, especially on uneven surfaces, the symptoms are typically not isolated to one muscle.

The tibialis posterior muscle is often involved and is the deepest muscle in the posterior compartment of the leg. Let's review the anatomy, myofascial trigger point location, pain referral patterns and a treatment technique for the tibialis posterior muscle.

Compartments

The region between the knee and ankle is called the leg, it is divided into three compartments: anterior (front), lateral (side) and posterior (back). The posterior (flexor) compartment is the largest and contains seven muscles, which can be divided into a superficial and deep group. (Photo 1)

The superficial group includes gastrocnemius, soleus and plantaris. The deep group includes tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus, flexor hallucis longus, and popliteus. (Photo 1)

Three compartments of the leg - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 1 – Three compartments of the leg: anterior, lateral and posterior. The posterior compartment is the largest and contains seven muscles. The tibialis posterior muscle is positioned between the tibia and fibula. (Photo 2) Medially, it is covered by the flexor digitorum longus muscle and laterally by the flexor hallucis longus muscle. (Photo 3) These muscles influence the ankle and foot joints. The popliteus is also in the deep compartment, however, it affects the knee joint.

Attachments

The tibialis posterior muscle attaches proximally to the tibia, fibula, adjoining interosseous membrane and the intermuscular septum. (Photo 2)

Distally, the tendon runs behind the medial malleolus to attach on the navicular, the calcaneus, the cuboid, three cuniform and the second through fourth metatarsals. (Photo 2)

When the tibialis posterior contracts, it produces inversion of the foot, with plantar flexion of the ankle joint. If the muscle is weak it contributes to pronation of the foot and a loss of support of the longitudinal arch. (Read Practice Building with Postural Analysis MT, January 2012.)

The fibularis (peronial) longus and bervis are main antagonists to the inversion action of the tibialis posterior.

tibialis posterior - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Photo 2 – The tibialis posterior is the deepest leg muscle in the posterior compartment, positioned between the tibia and fibula. It inverts the foot, with plantar flexion of the ankle joint.
 
tibialis posterior - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Photo 3 – The tibialis posterior is covered medially by the flexor digitorum longus muscle and laterally by the flexor hallucis longus muscle.

Symptoms

Patients with myofascial trigger points in the tibialis posterior muscle report calf and foot pain when walking or running. The pain is more intense when walking of running on uneven brick or cobblestone surfaces, as the muscle contracts while producing inversion of the foot and plantar flexion of the ankle joint.

Active myofascial trigger points can typically be located in the proximal third of the tibialis posterior muscle. The referred pain is most intense in the achilles tendon and the sole of the foot. A spillover pain, felt to a lesser degree, is experience in the calf. (Photo 4)

Tibialis posterior trigger point - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Photo 4 – Tibialis posterior trigger point. "X" indicates the common location of trigger points within the muscle. Solid red areas indicate an essential pain zone. The red dots indicate spillover pain zones.
 
Flexor hallucis longus - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark
Photo 5 – Flexor hallucis longus and flexor digitorum longus trigger point. "X" indicates the common location of trigger points within the muscle. Solid red areas indicate an essential pain zone. The red dots indicate spillover pain zones.

Education

superficial muscles - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 6 – Shorten and release superficial muscles. Visual aids such as anatomical models and charts are great patient education tools to demonstrate the muscle layers, trigger point location and pain referral patterns prior to treatment. Show patients how your charts work and what they may expect if you palpate a trigger point. For example, in Photo 5, "X" indicates the common location of trigger points within the muscle. Solid red areas indicate an essential pain zone or area of pain experienced by every patient that had that trigger point activated during research studies. The red dots indicate spillover pain zones. These are areas of pain experienced by some, but not all, patients outside of the essential pain zones. (Read Getting In Our Patients Head MT, January 2011)

Treatment

gastrocnemius and soleus - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 7 – Isolate and examine the bellies of the gastrocnemius and soleus utilizing pincer compression The patient's subjective complaints and your objective findings will determine the appropriate treatment techniques to integrate. Care for yourself while providing quality care for your patients by using proper body mechanics and adjusting the treatment table height accordingly. One goal during treatment is to reduce pain, not create it. Patient comfort should always be considered. Pillows and bolstering systems allow for a wide range of positioning options, with sections that adjust to various angles. Continually confirm with the patient during treatment that treatment pressure is comfortable. (Read Learning to Engage All The Senses MT, March 2012)

Whenever deep muscles require therapy the superficial tissues must first be properly released prior to treating deep structures. There are numerous techniques for treating the tibialis posterior muscle, this article will touch on only one.

Outline of the treatment technique:

muscle attachments on fibula - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 8 – Avoid the common fibular nerve when treating muscle attachments on fibula. Step 1 – First, shorten the superficial gastrocnemius and soleus muscles by positioning the patient prone with support like a bolster under the ankle to create knee flexion and plantar flexion of the foot. Apply oil or cream to posterior leg. (Photo 6)

Step 2 – Superficial Gliding. Start on the medial side of the calf. Using distal to proximal movements, from the ankle to the knee, treat in thumb width strips starting on the medial side and moving to the lateral side gliding over the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. (Photo 6)

deep posterior compartment - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 9 – Apply treatment pressure into the deep posterior compartment Step 3 – Pincer Compression. Isolate and examine the bellies of the gastrocnemius and soleus utilizing pincer compression. Note, if your hands are slipping on the skin during this step, due to oil of cream on the skin, treat through a tissue or linen. (Photo 7)

Step 4 – Tibia and Fibula attachments. Glide distal to proximal on the posterior aspect of the fibula, then repeat the same on the posterior aspect of the fibula. Caution to avoid the common fibular nerve located between the skin and the fibular head. (Photo 8)

Release distal attachments - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Photo 10 – Release distal attachments in the foot Step 5 – Glide distal to proximal applying pressure into the deep posterior compartment. On the posterior aspect of the fibula, repeat on the posterior aspect of the fibula. (Photo 9)

Step 6 – Release distal attachments in the foot. (Photo 10)

Symptoms of pain when walking or running in the calf and foot are typically not isolated to one muscle. The tibialis posterior is the deepest leg muscle and often involved. I hope this article provides you with empowering knowledge that can be applied immediately to your patients.


Click here for more information about David Kent, LMT, NCTMB.

 

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