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 Causes Hamstring Tightness?
Tight hamstrings plague people. When you have tight hamstrings, you’ve had them for a really long time and it doesn’t seem to matter how much you stretch, your tight hamstrings never get more flexible. If your hamstrings were just “tight,” your stretching interventions would’ve worked by now.
Hamstring tightness is common, no matter your activity level. Stretching those muscles may temporarily alleviate symptoms, but the cure might lie in posture and proper alignment. Whether you’re a star marathon runner or simply walking to work every day, you’re likely to experience some level of hamstring tightness from time to time. Common sense tells us that when a muscle feels tight, stretch it! But there’s more to it than that. And, depending on the cause of tightness, basic stretching may prove futile.
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 problems.
• 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:
- 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
- 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.