Drivers Beware:
Lumbar Support Can Be Harmful To Your Health!


5 Reasons to Avoid Toe-Touching Exercises

by Dennis Zacharkow, PT
© 2015

The problems associated with both sitting and standing toe-touching exercises include the following:

  1. The ability to touch one's toes will be influenced by the length of certain body segments (Broer and Galles, 1958; Wear, 1963, Adrichem and Korst, 1973). Individuals with a longer trunk-plus-arm measurement and relatively short legs will have an advantage in the performance of a toe-touch test. However, individuals with long legs and a relatively short trunk-plus arm measurement will be at a disadvantage in a toe-touch test (Broer and Galles, 1958).

  2. Toe-touching exercises can be extremely stressful during the adolescent growth spurt. According to Wiles (1937), "A great number of postural deformities commence in late childhood and adolescence, during periods of rapid growth."

    This increase in height until approximately age thirteen or fourteen is due more to the lengthening of the legs, whereas after age fourteen or fifteen the trunk gains more rapidly in length (Tyler, 1907).

    Kendall (1965) stressed that:

    "... there is a period between the years of ten and fourteen when a majority of children may not be able to touch the toes with knees straight. The inability to successfully perform this feat apparently results from a discrepancy between leg and trunk length during this growth period. To encourage or force children to accomplish this feat may be harmful in the sense that undue flexibility of the back may result."

    Kemper and Verschuur (1985) noted in their longitudinal study of teenagers in The Netherlands that the marked improvement in "sit-and-reach performance in girls at skeletal ages 12 and 13 and in boys at skeletal ages 14 and 15 also runs concurrently with the increase of trunk height in proportion to leg length." Branta et al. (1984) also felt that an increased score on a sit-and-reach test may be due to the growth spurt in trunk length, rather than an actual increase in hip flexibility.

  3. Toe-touching exercises will tend to increase the thoracic and lumbar spinal flexion. The spinal stress from these movements will be the most severe in individuals with tight hamstrings (Lambrinudi, 1934; Milne and Mierau, 1979). Hamstring tightness is very prevalent throughout the school-age population (Milne and Mierau, 1979; Salminen ,1984).

    According to Fisk (1987):

    "When there has been hamstring tightness for a long time, say, since early schooldays, a characteristic pattern of bending becomes obvious: when bending to touch the toes with the knees straight, flexion starts in the upper spine, and there is an obvious limitation of flexion round the hips. To compensate for this loss of hip pivot there is an apparent increase in spinal flexion, obvious in the dorsal and upper lumbar spine.

    Teaching such people how to stretch out their hamstrings is less than half the battle. They then have to be reprogrammed to bend with their hips and knees, not their back. This is extremely difficult. Their programmed pattern of bending is so ingrained on their computer circuits, and any attempt to alter this pattern takes a long time and a lot of effort. It would be simpler if such a pattern was not allowed to develop in the first place. An adequate training program in schools is needed."

    Supine hamstring stretching techniques are preferable in order to reduce the thoracolumbar spinal stress (Zacharkow, 1984; Milne and Mierau, 1979).

  4. Hypermobility in spinal flexion is considered to be a major risk factor in low back pain (Biering-Sorensen, 1984a, 1984b). In regards to an increased flexibility in flexion, Kirby et al. (1981) found that female gymnasts with a history of low back pain had greater toe-touching ability than those gymnasts without low back symptoms.

  5. Toe-touching exercises reinforce the movement pattern of spinal flexion with minimal hip flexion (Zacharkow, 1984). A lifting posture similar to the standing toe-touch position can be very dangerous, as the fully flexed position involves passive vertebral support with the back muscles relaxed. Therefore, all the stress is on the posterior aspect of the discs and posterior ligaments of the back (Floyd and Silver, 1955; Wolf et al., 1979; Watanabe, 1981; Ekholm et al., 1982; Kippers and Parker, 1983; Tanii and Masuda, 1985).


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