Dr. Steven Scappaticci, B.Sc. (Hons.), CSCS, DC, FRCms
We’ve all been asked to touch our toes at some point in our lives. Whether it was our doctor assessing us, a yoga instructor leading us into a pose, or during a fitness test from high school gym class, we’ve all been there.
At the same time, we probably all know someone who cannot touch their toes. Perhaps they’re always stiff because they’re inactive and sit a lot. If we sit in a position that keeps muscles or joints in certain positions, it’s tough to expect that the tissues will be ready and available to perform on cue when asked. But what about those people who are always active but still cannot touch their toes?
According to a quick Google search, depending on the source, approximately 38-53% of adults cannot touch their toes.
If you ask those people why they cannot touch their toes, you’ll often hear the rationales “my hamstrings are tight”, “I have short arms”, “ it’s genetic”, “it’s my age”, “that’s just the way I’m built”, the list goes on and on.
But seriously, what do all of these people have in common that prevents them from touching their toes? You’d be surprised to find that there is NO ONE FACTOR that exists that prevents all these people from touching their toes. But there may be a collection of reasons that can partially or fully contribute to not being able to touch your toes.
The key concept when it comes to movement capabilities comes from Dr. Andreo Spina and the team at Functional Range Systems. What are the joint prerequisites for a specific movement? And does the individual have these prerequisites?
So for someone to bend forward and touch their toes, what are the joint prerequisites? Well starting “at the top”, the individual will require to flex their spine, which we observe when their mid- and low-back start to round. Similarly, they’ll require adequate hip flexion. The knees should be kept straight in this model and there will be very little movement at the ankles as well. Of course this blog will assume that there are no issues with the upper limbs i.e. the shoulder flexion that is required.
So from a joint perspective, we can see that here that there are many sources of potential limitation(s). Someone may lack the ability to flex the lumbar spine. Is this due to surgical hardware in their back? Are they hyperlordotic? What is causing this? Do they lack the inability to flex their spine due to a medical condition (i.e. Anklyosing Spondylitis)? Or do they simply lack the ability to segmentally flex their lumbar spine, another key concept from Functional Range Systems.
Of course since we mentioned that the ability to flex at the hip is essential, is something preventing that from happening? Osseous blocking? Pinching in the anterior hip crease? Tight posterior hip elements? There can be many scenarios occurring in and around the spine and hips that can contribute to limitations.
Now we’ve just talked about the ‘joint prerequisites’ required but let’s not forget about the ‘tissue requirements’ as well. Since we fold forward when we touch our toes, it creates a pull or a stretch on the posterior elements involved. The tensile ability of these tissues is a huge contributor to achieving the desired toe-touch. People are familiar with the need for pliable hamstrings but there are many other tissues that are often neglected when it comes to this conversation. Aside from hamstrings, there needs to be a lengthening of the spinal erectors, psoas, glutes, and even the calves!
When there is muscle tension that prevents muscle lengthening it can create undesirable tension on surrounding nerves as well! This is actually the cause for the pulling sensation behind the knee that people experience when folding forward. It’s in your best interest to avoid this sensation and scenario!
Now if you can’t touch your toes perhaps this blog gives you some insight into where to start in your search for the key piece. If you have any pain, I encourage you to seek out a qualified health care practitioner who will work with you to achieve your goals!
What Patients Are Saying
I had an amazing foot treatment with Steve yesterday. It left me feeling like I have #newfeet #sharpdressedman" - Darlene