Should You Be Able To Touch Your Toes?
YES, YES, and YES!
And to be clear, I’m not talking about sitting cross-legged on the floor and touching your toes, I’m talking about touching your toes from a standing position with your knees straight. Yes, I said it: knees straight! Some find it comical when I tell them they should be able to do this movement. In fact, I once received a fridge magnet from a client that read, “If God wanted me to touch my toes, he would have put them on my knees!” Nevertheless, my stance is firm, that YES, you should be able to touch your toes.
The most common response I hear from clients when I ask them to perform this movement and they fail to do so is, “Ya, my hamstrings are really tight.” And sometimes they are correct that their hamstring mobility is restricted, but more often than not, it is not that simple and hamstrings are not solely to blame.
Despite the fact that you often feel a stretch in the back of your thighs when you bend forwards to touch your toes, it is not necessarily your hamstrings you feel stretching: You might actually be feeling your nerves being put on tension. Your sciatic nerves originate from the lower nerve roots off your spinal cord and run down the back of your leg between your hamstring muscles. The nervous system is all connected and thus if your nerves are “stuck” anywhere along their pathway you may find a limitation in the forward bend movement. Imagine pulling a hose to the back of your yard but it gets caught on the edge of your deck; you must free up the restriction at the corner of your deck to make the hose reach (or for you to be able to touch your toes!). This is one of the reasons I often see a dramatic increase in a the toe-touch movement after thoracic (mid-spine) mobilizations.
In order to touch your toes, you not only need sufficient hamstring and neural mobility, but also sufficient hip flexion range-of-motion, spinal flexion, and an appropriate motor control pattern – including the ability to shift your weight posteriorly (letting your hips move backward past your heels). So as you can see, touching your toes is not as simple as having flexible hamstrings.
Not sure why you can’t touch your toes? Come on into Defy Sports Performance and Physiotherapy to find out why!
-Julie Brandon, PT