A common complaint for a lot of individuals, whether they are athletes or not is that their hamstrings are “tight”. Simply put a tight hamstring is a lack of flexibility in the hamstring muscles. Tight hamstrings can cause a problems like a lack of mobility, poor performance, low back pain and other postural issues. Tight hamstrings may be a symptom or a cause of pain for some individuals. For example, individuals with low back pain may find relief simply by stretching out their hamstrings. There are plenty of positions, both standing and sitting, in which an individual can stretch their hamstrings. Stretch hamstrings can slowly increase the length of the muscle over time to help restore normal flexibility. The key is holding the stretch for 30-60 seconds and performing this stretch multiple times. Some individuals will require stretching a few times per day to help restore normal hamstring length. It’s important to stretch a muscle that is already warmed up, so stretching after exercise is ideal, but if you can’t stretch after exercising try walking around for a few minutes if you have recently been sitting prior to stretching.
What if your hamstring isn’t actually tight?
Some patients who think their hamstrings are tight, may not actually have tight hamstrings. The problem may be caused by poor pelvic positioning or impaired motor control of the muscles that stabilize the pelvis. A physical therapist can help determine if your hamstrings are tight or if the issue is more of a pelvic control problem by performing a hamstring length test while helping the patient activate their core muscles. By activating the core muscles prior to initiating the test, the pelvis is restored to a neutral position which allows the hamstrings to move through a full range of motion. If a patient has more hamstring length after activating their core muscles, they likely need to work on core activation exercises opposed to stretching their hamstrings. If there is no change in hamstring length during this test, then the patient likely has decreased hamstring flexibility.
About the author:
Dr. Kevin Prue PT, DPT, CSCS is a graduate of Duke University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. He is the president and director of Prue Physical Therapy & Sports Performance located in Cary NC. He specializes sports and orthopedic physical therapy, sports performance training and injury prevention for youth and recreational athletes.