Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.
Run, walk, bend, lift, repeat. All of these common daily activities can become more difficult and less comfortable when your hips, back, or legs feel tight and stiff. You’ve got two options: live with the discomfort or do something about it.
Tight hamstrings are often to blame. Maybe you feel tension behind the legs when you bend down to try and touch your toes or maybe it’s uncomfortable to simply sit on the floor. The hamstrings connect to the pelvis which connects to the lumbar spine (lower back), so tight hamstrings can also contribute to other aches and pains such as low back pain.
Why do the hamstrings get tight in the first place? Let’s start with understanding your body’s anatomy. The hamstrings are a group of muscles that line the back of the thigh. They include: the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and the long and short heads of the biceps femoris muscles.
These muscles originate from the ischial tuberosity (your sit bones), and attach to the bones of the lower leg just behind the knee area. The hamstrings are big muscles that cross two joints—the knee and the hip. They act to bend the knee and extend the hip. In order to properly stretch them, you’ll need to extend the knee and flex the hip at the same time.
You use your hamstrings for various activities throughout the day such as squatting, lifting, walking, standing and, of course, running or jumping. But even sitting can contribute to hamstring tightness. Sustained positions shortening the hamstrings, muscle imbalances or repetitive motions in poor alignment can all contribute to tightness of these muscles.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to stretch the hamstrings and help reduce hamstring tightness and other associated pain.
Your Move: Stretch the hamstrings by bending forward and trying to touch your toes. If you prefer lying down, use a yoga strap, towel or belt to stretch. Start with both legs straight. Then loop a strap around the foot of the leg you want to stretch and slowly raise it straight up towards the ceiling until a stretch is felt. For a successful stretch, try not to let your pelvis curl (or posteriorly tilt) while stretching. A gentle stretch should be felt along the back of the thigh.
If you’re planning to run or jump, try a dynamic stretch such as leg swings or hamstring scoops. Hold static stretches for 30 to 60 seconds and perform dynamic stretches for at least 30 seconds on each leg.