Yes, you heard me right.
It's not the legs or lower back that can prevent you from touching your toes.
Now before I sound crazy, there is of course a time and place where these very things hold true and may be the primary restriction.
We automatically assume it is our hamstrings, but they may be at maximal length
If the hamstrings go to maximal length and you still can't get there, it means you have something else at play that's preventing you from going further.
Usually the increased tension occurs because there is no more room for the muscle to lengthen. It acts as a brake preventing you from going further.
If you feel the biggest restriction in the back of the knees, then it may be the calves holding you back.
Restrictions in the neck can even limit the toe touch. This may cause stiffness in the upper back, stopping it from being able to fold. If we follow along here, our shoulders hang at our mid to upper back level.
Now you can see how a restriction here can put a strain down the chain to try and make up for lost motion.
You can see in this picture that there are flat spots in the spine, and increased curves in others.
The flat spots show signs of restrictions where you can not expand the area to allow for a true toe touch.
(The green represents where rounding occurs, and the blue where it is flat).
You can see that limitations at different areas in the spine in both pictures can affect the toe touch ability.
Looking back at the hamstrings, you can see how a restriction in the upper back can force them to have to try and over lengthen to make up for the deficit.
Now you can see how improving your toe touch is not always a matter of stretching the hamstrings. (if you read my past posts you know my thoughts on stretches).
By understanding where restrictions are coming from, you not only will be able to address the mobility of your toe touch, but may also increase mobility overall as those restrictions likely play a role in preventing rotation and movement in the shoulders and hips.
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and enjoys to help active adults maintain their lifestyle and provide natural solutions to their pain.