Can you reach your toes in a standing position, keeping your knees straight? Spinal flexion is the motion of flexing your spine, bringing your spine forward and downwards such that you touch your toes. If you have optimal spinal mobility, this motion should be no problem.
Let’s take a look at spinal flexion a little more closely, and see if we can teach you how to touch those toes.
Toe touching involves not only lumbar spine flexion, but flexion at the hip joints. You also need adequate hamstring and gastroc flexibility in order to keep the knees straight.
To determine the cause of an inadequate spinal flexion motion on a patient, we will assess all the components of the motion independently of one another by looking at hip motion when the lumbar spine is in a neutral position and then at the lumbar spine motion when the hips are in a neutral position. When you add core contraction, does your hip mobility increase? Increased core activation has shown to increase hip flexion and mobility, almost as if the core is saying, “your okay, I have everything stabilized”. Taking tension out of the hamstrings by bending the knees to assess hip mobility will allow us to determine if the hamstrings are really preventing optimal hip mobility.
With the above info considered, let us see if we can get you touch your toes. Try the following:
- Standing tall, toes touching, keep your knees straight and bend forward to touch your toes. Can you get there? Easily? If you can’t get there without bending your knees, continue on.
- This time as you bend forward, make sure you are hinging at your hips (hips are flexing) and your butt is pushing out behind you as you are flexing your spine and reaching for your toes. Does this help you get there? If no, continue on with the next tip.
- On this attempt, I want you to contract your core as if you are doing a plank or a sit up (remember shorten the space between your ribs and pelvis), hinge at the hips as you flex the lumbar spine reaching for your toes, keeping your knees straight. Are you there yet? If you are very close, do this a few more times, really tighten the core as you reach for your toes. If you are still way off, we need more work. Continue on with the next instruction.
- In this step, what I want you to do is use a foam roller (or lacrosse ball) and roll the whole posterior part of your leg, hamstring and calf, and use a smaller ball, like a golf ball, and roll the bottom of your foot. Do this on both legs and feet several times and then try your toe touch again as in #3 above. If you still need help and can’t reach your toes, try rolling for a few days and retest after each session to see where you are. In addition, please see the toe touch progression exercise listed below in the exercise section.
Spinal flexion is a fundamental movement pattern. As movement patterns become NONFUNCTIONAL, i.e., we do not do them properly, our bodies make compensations to make us think we are doing them properly, which in turn, lead to further NONFUNCTIONAL movements which can eventually lead to injury. And this is exactly what we are trying to avoid.
If you have questions about your spinal flexion and are unsure if you are testing yourself adequately, come on in and we can check that for you. Do you want further movements assessed? Ask for a Functional Movement Screen to be performed at your next visit.