If you can't bend down to tie your shoes, it may be due to a lack of flexibility, mobility, or balance. Your body is showing the signs, and we can help you understand what you need to improve. Recover your mobility with our tips below and a Miller PT expert to help you. There are so many things we chalk up to 'normal aging' that really do NOT have to be the case — we can help, and it's not nearly such a momentous undertaking as you might think! Just give us a call.
Learning to tie your shoes is a developmental milestone that comes with newfound independence and freedom. Finally, you can lace up and go — no assistance required.
So, it can be a little alarming when, after decades of managing your own double knots, bending down to tie a pair of sneakers becomes challenging or nearly impossible.
Barring any problems with vision or finger dexterity, any inability to tie your shoes is likely due to a lack of flexibility, mobility, or balance. So, we asked Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, founder and head programmer at Movement Vault, to explain what might be happening with your body and how to fix it.
Bending down to tie your shoes is an example of hip flexion, or drawing the knee toward the chest.
"Flexing at your hips is going to be dependent on the posterior side — aka the back side — of your hips, so primarily your hamstring mobility," Wickham says.
Mobility, he explains, is a two-part equation.
"It's really having the compliance in those muscles. So, are they flexible enough? And then, are you able to contract and control the muscles around your hip to move in a certain position?"
So, if you're not able to reach your feet or hold a bent-over position long enough to lace up, your lack of hamstring mobility may be to blame.
If you're working on your deadlift or even picking up something heavy from the floor, it's important to keep your back as flat as possible to protect your spine.
But, during an everyday movement like bending down to tie your shoes, a little spinal flexion is necessary. If you get stuck halfway to your toes, a rigid lower back may be to blame.
While your hamstrings and lower back are the most likely culprits, tight calves may also be a limiting factor in your ability to tie your shoes.
"The gastrocnemius — the bigger calf muscle — crosses the knee and the ankle. Having a tight gastrocnemius could potentially limit a bent-over or flexed position when your knees are straight," Wickham says. "Your soleus calf muscle, which only crosses your ankle joint, could limit your ankle dorsiflexion — drawing the toes toward the shin — when you have a bent knee, which could then limit your bent-over position."
Do you feel like you may tip over every time you attempt to tie your shoes — even with both feet on the floor? Then it's time to start incorporating balance training into your exercise routine.
In fact, even if you don't currently struggle with your sneakers, it's a good idea to proactively preserve your balance, which begins to decline rapidly in middle age. Researchers from a June 2022 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine saw a correlation between the ability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds and a longer lifespan in adults ages 51 to 75.
What if your problem has nothing to do with bending over? Maybe you sit down to tie your shoes but have trouble lifting your ankle to rest it on top of the opposite knee.
If you're unable to bring your legs to this "figure four" position, you may have tight hip external rotators, which rotate your femur away from your body's midline.
In some cases, the path of least resistance makes the most sense. If tying your shoes just isn't in the cards (e.g., you're pregnant, dealing with an injury or have a disability), consider swapping your lace-up shoes for a pair of slip-on or hands-free kicks.
When you come to Miller Physical Therapy, we help you stop living with pain and start living life to the fullest! There are numerous treatment and personalized therapy options we can offer you. Call (561) 278-6055 to learn more, or visit us online at Miller-PT.com and our Facebook page!