‘Tight’ hamstrings is a BIG issue for a lot of people. ‘Tight’ hamstrings can result in all sorts of symptoms from lack of flexibility at the hip joints, shoulder misalignment and lower back pain…
One of the more common symptoms to ‘tight’ hamstrings is lack of flexibility at the hips. The typical school of thought to this issue is to do hamstring stretches to ‘lengthen’ the ‘short’ hamstring muscles, almost viewing muscles like play doe that need to be reshaped and lengthened. Now this is a very old school way of dealing with muscle ‘tightness’ and to be honest a superficial and short term tactic. It’s not that stretching doesn’t have it’s place, it most defiantly does! But it’s very rare that an individual has experienced improved mobility at a joint from only stretching, especially if we’re aiming to produce a long term change.
YOUR hamstrings and the integrated system
The reason why just stretching your hamstrings is a superficial way of dealing with hamstring ‘tightness’ (and could potentially make the situation worse) is because the body is any integrated system. What does integrated system mean? Well here’s an example…
You have three hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimebranosus, biceps femoris) that originate from the sit bones of your pelvis (ischial tuberosity) down the back of your thigh bone (femur) and attach onto the back of your knee (posterior/medial condyle of the tibia and the head of the fibula). That’s a pretty simple explanation of the location of the hamstrings but here is where things get interesting…
Fibers of the biceps femoris (one of your hamstring muscles) continue into the sacrotuberous ligament (a ligament that connects the sit bones to the sacrum). The sacrotuberous ligament continues into the thoracolumbar fascia (lower/midback area) and the thoracolumbar fascia continues into the latissimus dorsi (big muscle across your back) which attaches onto the top of your arms (the humerus)…
Your right hamstring muscles attach all the way up into the top of your left arm (diagonal connection). This means that an issue in your shoulder for example can be felt as an issue in your lower back, hamstrings ect… Hamstring issues can be an end result of something happening somewhere else. This is why just focusing on stretching the hamstrings is a short term tactic that most likely won’t produce long term results.
Producing a long term result for your hamstrings
Commonly, the hamstrings can go into a ‘protective spasm’ when the sciatic nerve is ‘tight’. This ‘protective spasm’ can result in having a restricted range of motion when it comes to hip/lower back flexibility. Your sciatic nerve is a big nerve in your body that runs down the back of your legs. If this nerve becomes ‘tight’ your brain will instruct your hamstring muscles to go into a ‘protective spasm’ (reducing your hamstring’s ability to fully eccentrically contract) in order to lesson the likelihood of damaging the sciatic nerve. Your brain would much rather you experience hamstring ‘tightness’ and lack of mobility at the hip joint than risk damaging the sciatic nerve. What I’ve seen with a lot of my clients is when the sciatic nerve has been mobilised they gain back hamstring flexibility. Now I’m not saying that the sciatic nerve is the whole story but it’s more times than not part of the equation. Of course an individual’s lifestyle also needs to be taken into consideration.
The Take Away
I hope this blog gives you a clearer understanding on how the body is truly an integrated system. If there is an issue in the body (lack of mobility, pain ect…), it’s possible that the issue is a symptom of something else going on. Just focusing on the issue is often not enough to produce a desired result. The famous quote, ‘those who treat the site of pain are lost’ is incredibly accurate in most cases.
If you would like more information on how to improve hamstring issues, private message me on my Facebook – Movement Biomechanics (link below).
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