Are Your Hamstrings REALLY Tight?

Ever wonder why your hamstrings feel tight even though you stretch them?

If the answer to tight muscles is stretching, then shouldn’t stretching your hamstrings make them more flexible? If you’re finding your hamstrings stay restricted and tight regardless of how much you stretch them, then perhaps there’s something else going on. In actuality, the feeling or perception of tightness in a muscle is subjective and does not necessarily indicate that the muscle is in fact short and in need of lengthening via stretching.

The site where we experience tightness or pain isn’t necessarily the same spot where it originates. In the case of the hamstrings, tightness across the back of the legs sometimes has little to do with those parts of the body themselves. It’s a very common misconception that feelings of tightness in the hamstrings mean they must be short and in need of stretching.

Hamstrings become shortened when they aren’t experiencing a full range of motion. A restricted range of motion in the hamstrings affects the hip flexors, causing them to tighten, which then in turn affects the calves and hamstrings. Tight hip flexors cause a pelvic tilt that causes tightness in the lower back, which often results in tight hamstrings. Poor pelvic position from weak abdominal muscles can add strain on the hamstrings and cause those feelings of tightness in the hamstrings that just doesn’t seem to let go.
This is especially true if you spend a lot of time sitting, which most of us do.

There is a lot of confusion about the causes of tight hamstrings. People often use stretching routines and expect they will eliminate the issue, without knowing what the true problem is. The hamstring muscles are multifunctional, and specific exercises are needed to keep them healthy and extended.

What are the Hamstrings?

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles in the back of the thigh. They run from the pelvis down to the knee, and help bend the knee and extend the hip. They are long muscles that also act extensors and rotators of the hips. The hamstrings are crucial to many activities, including walking, running, jumping, and controlling movements of the trunk. Most daily activities do not stretch the hamstrings, so they often feel overly tight and even hypertonic, meaning in constant contraction–think marathon runners.

The hamstrings are powerful hip extensors, knee flexors, medial and lateral rotators, and important stabilizers of the knee. They are bi-articular muscles, meaning that they cross two joints, both the hip and the knee; and this is why a hamstring injury can affect hips, lower backs, knees, and the motion patterns of the entire lower torso.

What is Muscle Tension?

Your body is a complex and intricate system, made up of many bones and muscles, connected by ligaments and controlled by tendons with signals from the brain and nervous system. Muscles contract and relax based on stimuli from the nervous system. Everything is closely interrelated.

Muscular tension can be due to a number of factors: a lack of stability; a compensatory pattern; or protection against a threat—real or imaginary. When a muscle—in this case, the hamstring–becomes hypertonic, which means very toned or tight, it is guarding movement within a specific range of motion. It’s important to look at how and why this happens. The sensory part of the nervous system cannot tell if a muscle is short or not, but the “feeling of tightness” is the brain telling you something is wrong. An already overstretched muscle or tendon can feel tight. Often the act of stretching “tight” hamstrings will in fact result in them ending up feeling tighter!

It’s a good idea to take a look above and below the problem. If hamstrings feel tight or short, this might be a symptom of a larger systemic misalignment. This can be alleviated by stretches that target not only hamstrings but psoas, hips, lower back, glutes, and calves.

What Stretches Work?

If your core and glutes aren’t active and firing, spinal erectors end up working twice as hard to pull your hips anteriorly (in a forward direction), stretching the hamstrings with every movement of your legs. When your core is firing properly, the torso provides a stable platform to allow muscles to produce force through the limbs. This way, the hamstrings don’t have to support the pelvis on their own. When the body doesn’t have a stable base to generate tension, you lose energy throughout the system and other muscles have to compensate in order to balance the body.

If a muscle is weak or inhibited, receives poor oxygen supply or is improperly aligned, stretching will decrease the input being sent to that muscle. It will then regain tension as the body fights for stability. If the bottom side of your pelvis (the hamstring) is weak, then the body will try to find stability by locking down that weak muscle group to prevent injury.

If you have the feeling of tightness in the hamstrings, there can be a variety of reasons for this. The most common cause is a misalignment of the back or pelvis. Or there might be a problem in the hamstrings themselves, such as a tear or scar tissue. If one leg is dominant, it’s possible the sciatic nerve may be involved. To identify the cause of the problem, an assessment by a professional like an Osteopath/Physiotherapist or other physical therapist is required.

Happy & Healthy Hamstrings

April 22 2-5p

The hamstrings are at high risk for muscle injuries because they cover both the knee and hip joints.

If your hamstrings are weak and tight, they’re vulnerable to strain. Daily activities don’t stretch them, and tight hamstrings can cause all kinds of problems, such as lower back pain, neck pain and muscle cramps, as well as limited range of motion in hips and knees.

The hamstring muscles are connected to the bones at the bottom of the lower pelvis, so if they are overly tight, it can cause stress on lower back and cause pain. If you engage in sports or high-speed activities, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends a daily routine to keep hamstrings strong and flexible.

In this class we will work with forward extensions and learn how to keep the hamstrings happy as we help lengthen the muscles to reduce back pain.