Need to sit down to put on socks? Unfortunately, this can be one of those dreadful signs of what happens as we age — balance, coordination and agility fade. The elusive “sock issue” is heard regularly in a physio clinic. It’s actually surprising how often this comes up with patients. Clearly a common concern.
So why is it a big deal if you suddenly can’t put on socks?
To patients this is upsetting. It makes them feel old. And can be embarrassing. When it dawns on a person that the simple task of putting your socks on seems to have become one of Herculean proportions, requiring the flexibility of a Yogi and the determination of a very stubborn two-year-old – it isn’t funny.
A physiotherapists’ job is to figure out the “Why.” Then we can help you. There are many reasons why putting your socks or shoes can be difficult:
- Loss of hip range of motion. If you’re finding it harder and harder to get that foot up on your opposite leg, it could be because you are lacking adequate hip range of motion. The fact that you can’t put on socks could mean that early hip arthritis is on its way;
- Tight lower back muscles. The muscles in the low back may be very tight and not allow you to flex your spine AND also flex your hip at the same time to put that darn sock on;
- Sacroiliac Dysfunction ( SI joint ) may be present. You may not be able to stand on the affected SIJ leg due to pain or feeling of instability. Or, the piriformis muscle on the side you are trying to sock up may be too tight secondary from the SI dysfunction;
- Poor overall balance;
- Acute low back/disc/nerve pain and inflammation.
With some good detective skills, physiotherapists will assess and figure out the source of the problem. The solution will be different for each of the above five mentioned possible causes.
The most common reason that I see is the stiff hip joint/muscles and declining balance. Luckily this can be addressed with specific exercises and also some neuromotor exercise or “ Functional Fitness” training. For some, manual therapy treatment can be beneficial for stiff hip joints, low back joints/muscles and the SI joint. Often a little bit of hands-on treatment is all you need.
Occasionally more help is needed. Assistive dressing devices, like sock aids, can help make putting socks on/off easier. For people with severely limiting arthritis, who have difficulty bending and reaching their feet, sock aids can allow them to independently put on their socks. There is a good variety of adaptive equipment available for those that need a bit of extra help.
An assessment, treatment and a custom exercise program is a must if you have anxiety just looking at those socks. As we age the goal is to stay independent and feel good about yourself.
Find your favourite Physio-Detective to join forces with you in the sock battle. It can be won!
Cheryl Witter is owner-operator of Spine and Sport North End, and recently celebrated 25 years of business in Vernon. She used to write a column regularly in the Morning Star and we are happy to have her back!