The ability to touch your toes sounds more like a party trick than a diagnostic technique. But it's an excellent indicator of lower-back health and apparently half of the population is unable to do it.
Now a new study published by Coventry University shows that the Bowen Technique, a gentle manipulation of the muscles and tendons, similar to massage can increase hamstring flexibility and help with lower-back problems. The university study of 116 students showed that a week after having a single treatment, participants could touch their toes or at least get significantly closer.
Bowen therapy was established in Australia in the Fifties. It is based on the principle that the human body is made of connective tissues that are all linked. By using the fingers and thumbs to perform gentle rolling movements, the muscles, ligaments and tendons are realigned, lower back pain is reduced and flexibility increased.
"Our posture is increasingly poor," says physiotherapist and Bowen practitioner, Vivien Fishwick, based at St Margarets Hospice, Taunton, Somerset. "Toe- touching is a great marker. Some people are more flexible than others but it's an easy measurement of hamstring length. We spend our lives slumped over computers or desks. This rounds the back and tilts the pelvis forwards and upwards. You lose the natural curve of your back and shorten your hamstrings, which leads to problems," says Fishwick.
Stress is put on ligaments and muscles running down the spine. Because they are weak, you are in danger of damaging them and causing agonising lower-back pain. It can even lead to irritation of the sciatic nerve. Bowen is a subtle but targeted technique. It works over a few days, although one in ten people will not benefit.
- Alice Smellie