When I try to touch my toes, I experience pain in the back of my knee. I’m told that this is the tendon in the knee and I should not be trying to stretch it. No matter how I try to stretch it (bent knees, back straight, bend at the hip, etc) I just get pain in my knees. I also cannot sit with my legs out straight at a 90 degree angle. What should I do to be able to touch my toes properly?
We’re limited in our ability to give you specific information without doing an examination of your knees but can give you some general guidance on stretching.
There are a few key muscles that attach behind the knee. The hamstrings come down from the hip and the gastrocnemius (one of your calf muscles) comes up from the ankle. A tendon is how a muscle attaches to a bone and it is perfectly safe to stretch muscles and tendons gently. If your hamstrings and/or gastrocnemius are tight, you will have difficulty bending over to try to touch your toes or sitting with your legs out straight. Some people are more naturally flexible than others and it is not necessary to be able to touch your toes but if you are feeling pain with it then it’s important to try to gain some more flexibility.
The most important part of stretching is stretching enough. For muscles to truly lengthen, they need to be stretched for 30-90 seconds multiple times a day in a pain-free range. You may feel a pull or a “good hurt” when stretching but it should never be sharply painful. If it is, please back off to a more comfortable stretch. Think about how much of the day we spend sitting. In sitting, the muscles along the back of the legs are in a shortened position. So, in addition to stretching, it’s important to get up, stand, and walk frequently throughout the day.
Please see the pictures below for examples of safe hamstring and calf stretches. Keep in mind that everyone is different so not every exercise feels good for every person. Seeing a physical therapist for guidance on your specific needs is recommended.
**This reply is for informational purposes only. It’s not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, physical therapist, or other qualified health provider with a medical condition.