Compromised body function is a significant cause of decreased independence for seniors. It may not seem like a big deal now, but you should be able to touch your toes from a standing position. Touching your toes requires two functions to occur in the body: relaxing the muscles of the lower back and shifting your weight behind you.
When the lower back or hip muscles are tight, the restriction is the way your body tells you it needs you to stabilize yourself. Struggling to shift your weight behind you is the result of weak upper leg muscles that do not allow proper rotation of the hip, which is required in order to assist in the control of your legs while bending over. Weak muscles around the hip means the legs will shake quite a bit when you bend your torso towards the floor, and that creates panic for your nervous system: “Don’t bend over or you’ll fall down!”
As we’ve discussed previously, being able to do simple chores around the house is an ADL, or activity of daily living, we’d like to see in seniors in order to consider it safe for them to continue to live independently. Reaching to get things off the floor is a sizeable part of that equation.
Now, let’s get down to your toes! The first thing to do is commit to improving this normal daily function. Bending over is something we should all be able to do regularly. Second, if reaching your toes is either not possible or not simple, then you should attempt to bend over while bracing yourself. Bracing should be done with a large, stable object such as a bed, a couch, or an ottoman. Place your non-dominant hand on the bracing object and reach down toward the floor with your dominant hand. If you can reach the floor in this fashion, then we are looking at getting you some core strengthening exercises to give your torso more support while bending over. If you cannot reach the floor, or reaching toward the floor is uncomfortable (stop before it is painful), then you should consider getting assessed.
Assessments are a great way to find out if your issue is muscular, structural, or neurological. Muscular and neurological issues can usually be solved with an exercise routine and a commitment to regular activities to maintain your renewed flexibility. Structural issues, on the other hand, may affect the nerves going into your legs, and that could equal pain in the lower back. Speak to a professional about an assessment to help identify what is causing you pain. Discomfort could be a nerve impingement, such as those arising from arthritic joints or worn spinal processes.
Let’s discuss a case of someone who can reach their toes but has a significantly rounded back and unevenly bent knees. They can touch their toes and reach the floor, but this motion can leave them struggling to breathe. This is a good example of weak core function, where the abdominal and oblique muscles fail to support your back, so your shoulders do the support work instead. This is a great situation to seek out professional advice on the best exercises to help control the torso that is on top of stronger legs.
Have a question about ADLs for seniors? Check out my assessment tool at http://www.rockvillepersonaltraining.com/p/senior-fitness.html
By Justin Walls