• Colbie Jorgensen DPT

Should You Be Stretching your Hamstrings?

Do you feel that tightness in the back of your legs after a work out? Are you constantly trying to get rid of it? Have you been stretching and foam rolling but only get temporary relief? Here are a few myths about stretching and some tips to help with that feeling of tightness in the back of your legs.

Do you have tightness in the back of your legs? Do you feel it when you try to touch your toes, put on your socks, or when you're exercising? If you’re a cyclist or triathlete, you might feel it when you’re on the bike or while you’re running. What does it mean? Do have tight hamstrings if so why? Is there anything that you can do to help it?

Let me try to answer a few of these questions for you.

There is a lot of info out there about hamstring stretching. Mostly because there are a lot of people that have that feeling of tightness in the back of their legs and they have been trying to figure out how to get rid of it for a long time.

Let’s start by talking about what might be causing it.

First and probably most significant is that amount of sitting that you are doing. Most of us out there especially if you have a desk job are sitting down for 8-10 hours of the day When you are sitting the muscle on the back of your legs (hamstrings) is on slack or shortened. Our bodies are very good and adapting to the stress that we put on them, so it only makes sense that our hamstrings are going to start to get used to that position. It is not only the hamstring muscle that is in a shortened position while we are sitting. There is a nerve that travels from your lower back all the way down the back of your leg into your foot (sciatic nerve) this nerve also gets comfortable in that position.

If you’re a cyclist or triathlete you’re going to be spending even more time in an even further shortened position so you’re getting even more adaptations in that shortened position

Let’s get one thing straight I am not saying that sitting is bad for you it just happens to be the position that a lot of people are in for several hours a day and your body adapts to that so when you take your body into positions that stress these tissues they are going to feel tight.

Second cause could be lack of use or weakness. The hamstrings do 2 main motions bend your knees and extend your hips these are motions that we do every day without realizing it, but it may not be working our hamstrings as much as we think. So, if you go out and exercise, do some yard work, lift some boxes and afterwards you feel that tightness in the back of your legs it may just mean that you worked your hamstrings more than you're used to.

Third could just be your past experiences and genetics. If you were or are a dancer, gymnast, martial artist, or yogi you may have developed a greater tolerance for stretching these tissues than others. You could also just be born with more or less tolerance to the stretch of these tissues. Age could also be a factor as we tend to become less flexible as we age.

What can we do about it?

It will help to determine what your goal is before you start trying to work on it.

Are you simply trying to get rid of that feeling of tightness?

Do you want to be able to touch your toes without pain?

Do you want to get into a more aerodynamic position on your bike?

There are 3 main things that you can do about what your feeling in your hamstrings.

#1 Stretching

#2 Nerve gliding

#4 Strengthening

Let’s start by busting some myths about stretching in general.

Does stretching prevent injury – NO

Does occasional stretching change muscle length – NO

Does it help with performance – NO

Do you have to do it after exercise – NO

Again, I am not saying stretching is bad it just may not be all is cracked up to be

Stretching can actually help that feeling of tightness in the back of your leg but it may not be for the reason that we think. The muscles are probably not actually getting longer your nervous system and brain may simply be adapting to the stress that your causing and this reduces the

“feeling of tightness” that you have.

Here are a few examples of some different ways to stretch the hamstrings and nerves on the back of your leg.

That leads us into talking about nerve gliding as it can be pretty similar to stretching. This will help maintain the ability for you nerves to glide through your leg and potentially reduce that feeling of tightness you have. Here are a few ideas in the video below

I saved the best for last. Strengthening can actually be one of the best ways to reduce that feeling of hamstring tightness that we get when we are active. There are many research studies showing that strength training can help reduce pain, improve both mobility and function. Here are a few ways you can target your hamstrings.

If you have any question please feel free to reach out to me at colbie@revolutionspt.com or visit our website revolutionspt.com where we have more free resources to help you.

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