Tight Hamstrings

January 25th, 2019

The hamstring is a group of three muscles that run up the back of your thigh. Keeping these muscles loose is important. There’s also a difference between tightness and injury. If you feel pain in your hamstring, it’s best to come see us for a free assessment before attempting to treat yourself at home.

What problems can tight hamstrings cause?

Opens you up to further injury: ie tearing. If you force a muscle to go further than it can normally go at speed it is likely to tear.

• Tight hamstrings can cause the hips and pelvis to rotate back flattening the lower back and causing back pain, knee pain or foot pain.

•  Tight hamstrings can also be responsible for postural problems and other back problems such as sacroiliac joint pain, as they will tend to pull the pelvis out of normal position.  The ‘normal’ range of hip flexion (measured when laying flat on your back and raising the leg straight off the floor – knee straight) permitted by the hamstrings is in the region of 80-90 degrees. Anything less than 80 degrees is considered ‘tight’. The image on the right shows a ‘normal’ range of motion.

Why do I have tight hamstrings?

Here are a few reasons why a muscle becomes tight:

  • Too much sitting – When your knees are bent in a seated position, your hamstrings are flexed and shortened. Change positions every 15 minutes if your sitting.
  • Problems in your lower back can put pressure on your sciatic nerve which runs down the legs and causes muscles to tighten.
  • Overuse – eg from lots of physical activity like running and cycling or from prolonged sitting
  • Compensation – the muscle is compensating for a weak muscle that has a similar action eg weak Glutes can lead to tight Hamstrings, or for a tight muscle that has an opposing action eg tight hip flexors can lead to tight Hamstrings
  • Weakness – when a muscle is weak (eg from underuse) the nervous system may tighten it in an attempt to create stability
  • Injury – when a muscle is injured it may tighten in order to prevent further injury
  • Pelvic problems – Your pelvis alignment affects everything from your spine to your hips, your legs to your feet. If there’s any uneven pelvic pull that disrupts the way your body should stand naturally, it could very well result in painfully tight hamstrings.
  • Tight hip flexors can create an anterior pelvic tilt (a forward, downturned pelvis), resulting in tight hamstrings. In other words, a pelvic tilt can cause tightness, but tightness can also cause a pelvic tilt. Repetitive movement, poor posture, and constantly sitting in a sedentary lifestyle force hip flexors into a constantly-shortened position, creating one of many tight hamstring causes.
  • Genetic – You can be born with naturally short hamstrings when some people are naturally supple. In general women and children are more supple than men.
  • Not enough movement –  If you participate in a lot of sport and do not stretch properly then you are more likely to have your hamstrings tighten up. It is especially important to stretch properly after exercise as this is when the muscles are warm and more receptive to stretching. If you tend to make a beeline for the bar after your game of football thinks about spending 10 minutes stretching first.

How to loosen tight hamstrings

Tight hamstring symptoms are pretty unmistakable. Soreness or stiffness in the back of your leg is the most common.  When you tie your shoes or try to touch your toes is the most common culprit.  Stretching will help avoid strains and muscle tears but simple stretches can help and avoid prolonged sitting.  If you feel any pain STOP.

Once we have an understanding of why your hamstrings are tight we can then attempt to lengthen them. If a muscle is tight because of weakness then stretching it will only make it weaker. The focus here instead should be on strengthening. We most likely will prescribe a mixture of strengthening and stretching into your treatment plan.  Come to HealthQuest and we can design a treatment plan that’s right for you.  Schedule a free assessment now!


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