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Toe tappers, or toe taps, strengthen the muscles that flex the foot, particularly the tibialis anterior. These muscles, which are located on the shin, help with walking, as they maneuver the foot so it can clear the ground. Because of this, toe tappers benefit elderly individuals by reducing the risk of falls. Toe tappers are also used as both a treatment and as a preventive measure for shin splints. This exercise is well suited for people who suffer from shin splints or who engage in activities such as running and dancing that have a high incidence of shin splints.
To perform toe tappers, take off your shoes and sit in a chair. Flex your right ankle to lift your foot off of the ground, while keeping your heel on the floor. Lower your foot and repeat. Once you've finished working on the right foot, do the toe tappers with your left foot. If your muscles are weak, begin by placing your foot in front of your knee. As you get stronger, move your foot back until it is directly under your knee. For a more advanced version, you can perform the exercise standing up.
If you are primarily looking to build strength in your shin muscles, tap your foot as fast as possible for 20 seconds. Rest for 20 seconds, and repeat four more times. You can also perform the exercise slowly, emphasizing the range of motion of your ankle joint. Aim to lift your toes higher off the floor with each repetition, and hold the position at the top for five seconds before lowering your foot. Start off with five repetitions on each foot, and increase the number of repetitions as you gain strength.
Toe tappers target the tibialis anterior. This muscle is often quite weak, and the simple movements of tap tappers stress the muscle enough to build strength. The weakness of the tibialis anterior results in a muscular imbalance with the calf muscles, which are typically quite strong. This muscular imbalance can lead to shin splints. Increasing the strength of the tibialis anterior with toe tappers can balance the strength of both muscle groups so shin splints become less likely.
Although toe tappers are frequently included in rehabilitation programs for shin splints, this exercise is not appropriate for all pain in the front of the lower leg. Other, more serious, conditions have similar symptoms to shin splints. If your physiotherapist or trainer suggested toe tappers as part of a rehabilitation plan for shin splints, your symptoms should decrease in 10 days. If your symptoms do not decrease, you need to see a doctor to rule out other conditions.