Hamstring tightness is a common problem with many causes. While many injuries are due to sports and activities that bring the leg toward the buttocks or deceleration contractions, most often it is due to maintaining positions like sitting that can shorten the muscles.
With tight hamstrings, they also become more vulnerable to strain type injuries and cramps. It is a deep postural muscle and can be associated with back pain as a primary contributor or from nerve irritation due to a herniated disc or back joint pressure.
The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of the thighs, therefore there is a lot of fascia surrounding the muscles, making it a complex system. This does not mean it is difficult to treat. Most individuals use stretching, which are frequently done wrong and can actually contribute to tears in the muscles (strains), which can cause chronic problems.
How To Correctly Stretch For Hamstring Tightness
With many individuals working from home, sedentary behavior like prolonged sitting plays a major role in hamstring tightness. A study found an “alarming” prevalence of tight hamstrings in healthy college students and concluded that sitting for extended periods is a significant factor.
During sitting, hamstring muscles are not active and remain shortened. Over time, this becomes an adaptation that can also weaken the gluteal muscles, making the hamstrings overwork to compensate. Sitting also reduces circulation to the legs, which is vital for proper muscle function as well as healing. After vigorous activities like workouts or heavy lifting, it is important to wind down before sitting to rest.
When sitting, proper ergonomics plays an important role as well as getting up for breaks. Using the latest technology, sit to stand desks allow continuation of work while changing from sitting to standing.
Because they attach to the pelvis, posture plays an important role. Related postures can affect overall posture and play into more complex pain syndromes. Sometimes noted as “Lower Crossed Syndrome”, the pelvis may be tilted backward (posterior) or forward (anterior) and is often associated with muscular imbalances including hamstring tightness along with weak gluteals and abdominal muscles.
In a posterior tilted pelvis the hamstrings are in a chronically shortened position, pulling the back of the pelvis down and flattening the lower back. The anterior tilted pelvis features psoas tightness raising it causing the lower back to overarch and pulling on the hamstrings even in a lengthened position.
Tight Hamstring Tips
- Pay attention to your posture. Regardless of sitting or standing try to maintain a neutral pelvis. You can tilt your pelvis forward slightly to keep a gentle curve in your back. Draw in your belly during exhales. This may require correct breathing technique practice.
- Use a lumbar support when sitting will help with posterior pelvic tilt and a flat back. It gently supports the lumbar spine, bringing the pelvis to a more neutral posture. For anterior tilt, a lumbar support can minimize fatigue of the back muscles.
- You can massage your hamstrings while sitting with a tennis or massage ball. Place it under the thigh and move your leg from side to side. Do this several times a day, moving the ball throughout the muscle.
- Take frequent breaks from sitting to stand, stretch, and walk. A study indicates backward walking can help release the hamstrings and even help back pain. Be careful. This method is often employed by therapists on a treadmill.
Like using a tennis ball, you may find areas of pain that refer pain to different areas. This can be due to trigger points and it is important to treat these areas as they can prevent normal function and thwart attempts to relax tight hamstrings. There are home methods to treat these areas. I would frequently use Active Release to treat trigger points and areas of adhesions and nerve entrapment before teaching proper stretching techniques for difficult cases.