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Here’s what your body is trying to tell you when you can’t tie your shoes

If you feel it is hard to tie your shoes, there may be a lack of flexibility, mobility or balance. Physical therapists make suggestions about exercises to help with such problems.

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A developmental milestone that comes with increased independence and freedom is learning to tie your shoes. Finally, you can just lace up and go without any help.

Therefore, it can be a little concerning when bending down to tie a pair of sneakers becomes difficult or practically impossible after years of managing your own double knots.

Any difficulty tying your shoes, barring issues with vision or finger dexterity, is most usually brought on by a lack of flexibility, movement, or balance. Therefore, we asked Movement Vault’s creator and lead programmer Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, to explain what might be going on with your body and how to correct it.

1. Improve Your Hamstring Mobility

One instance of hip flexion, or pulling the knee toward the chest, is bending over to tie your shoes.

The posterior side of your hips, often known as the back side, or more specifically, your hamstring mobility, will be necessary for hip flexibility, according to Wickham.

He argues that mobility is a two-part equation.

Are those muscles flexible enough, and can you contract and manipulate the muscles surrounding your hip so that it can move into a specific position?

Therefore, your limited hamstring mobility may be to blame if you are unable to reach your feet or maintain a bending-over position long enough to lace up.

Foam rolling your hamstrings

Active Stretch for Hamstrings

2. You Can’t Move Your Lower Back

Keep your back as flat as you can to protect your spine when practicing your deadlift or even when lifting up anything heavy from the ground.

But a little spinal flexion is required for a routine motion, such as stooping to tie your shoes. A tight lower back may be at blame if you become immobile halfway to your toes.

Split-up Cat-Camel

3. Your calves need to be stretched.

The most likely reasons are your hamstrings and your back, although you can also have trouble tying your shoes because of tight calves.

“Having a tight gastrocnemius could potentially hinder a bent-over or flexed position while your knees are straight,” explains Wickham. “The gastrocnemius, the greater calf muscle, spans the knee and the ankle. Your soleus calf muscle, which just crosses your ankle joint, could restrict your ability to bend over while your knee is bent by preventing you from pulling your toes toward your shin.

A dynamic calf stretch

4. You’re Not Training Your Balance Enough

When tying your shoes, even with both feet on the ground, do you ever feel as though you might fall over? When that happens, it’s time to begin including balance training in your exercise regimen.

In fact, it’s a good idea to actively maintain your balance because it starts to deteriorate quickly in middle age even if you don’t now have trouble with your shoes. In a June 2022 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers discovered a link between being able to balance for 10 seconds on one leg and living longer in persons between the ages of 51 and 75.

Triple Toe Tap

5. You Experience External Hip Rotation Pain

What if your issue is unrelated to leaning over? Perhaps you struggle to elevate your ankle to rest it on top of the opposing knee as you sit down to tie your shoes.

Your hip external rotators, which twist your femur away from the midline of your body, may be tight if you are unable to move your legs into this “figure four” position.

Stretching the active piriformis and glutes

6. Time to switch your shoes

There are times when taking the easiest route is the best choice. Consider switching out your lace-up shoes for a pair of slip-on or hands-free footwear if tying your shoes just isn’t an option for you (for example, if you’re pregnant, recovering from an injury, or have a disability).