And why are they always tight ?!
We classically think of hamstring injuries as being the preserve of a sporting person - that sudden tear or strain in a sprinter explosively powering out of the blocks or coming around down the back straight, pulling up suddenly clutching their thigh .... think GB sprinter Derek Redmond pulling up mid-race in agony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Yet, tight hamstrings is probably one of the commonest findings all of our therapists see in many of our clients - sporting and non- sporting - irrespective of what problem they've come to see us with .They've often spent ages religiously stretching their hamstrings to no avail as they still seem to be stiff, achy and struggling with inflexibility.
But can these tight muscles be giving us problems elsewhere too ?
Just what are the hamstrings anyway and what is their job ?
It's actually three separate muscles, Biceps Femoris, Semi-membranosus and Semi-tendinosus, for convenience we group them together and refer to them as ' the hamstrings '. They sit in the back of the thigh, extending from the bum bone to just below the knee and simplistically their job is to flex ( bend ) the knee and assist the glutes ( butt muscles ) extend
( straighten ) the hip. However on closer inspection the hamstring muscles have a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibres - as it were, the ' Mo Farahs ' of the muscle world as opposed to 'Usain Bolts ' like Quadriceps - and increasingly research is suggesting that hamstrings play a far more important role in maintaining our posture and keeping us upright against gravity all day.
This is where it gets interesting !
The challenge of staying upright.
The blue lines show the long chain of muscles and soft tissues on the back of our body that form the Superficial Back LIne. It's a long interconnected chain of muscles and fascia ( toughened soft tissue ) from the base of our skull and extending all the way down through the body to the tips of the toes. The tension in these bands acts like a giant bungee cord helping us counteract gravity and extend us - basically keeping us upright !
Like everything else in our body it's all about teamwork and when 'team members' don't pull their weight for an extended period it means the rest of the team has to work harder to compensate and pick up the slack. In prolonged sitting positions these posterior muscles can become stretched and slack meaning the hamstrings end up working overtime and becoming stiff and achy and tight.
Problems anywhere along the chain can cause pain and dysfunction somewhere else along the chain. Cervicogenic headaches, hamstring tears, lower back spasms, achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis are all things that regularly present in clinic and hey, look where all of these structures sit ? So the foot bone really is connected to the backbone.
So are tight hamstrings more likely to get injured ?
Well... actually, no ! There's precious little credible evidence or research that shows a direct link between tightness in the hamstrings and injury, however, what IS shown in the research is the link between previous hamstring injury and further problems with them. Basically, if you've had an hamstring injury once then there is a real sporting chance that you will pick up another one ! To add insult to injury the chances also increase with age too.. sorry :(
So stretching is a must .. right ?
Well not necessarily. Stretching can feel good as it's believed it calms the nervous system and induces a feeling of suppleness but true changes in tissue length and flexibility take weeks, if not months meaning stretching needs to be consistent to get long term effects. Far more important is to address the reason WHY your hamstrings are tight... otherwise you may well be wasting your time doing all that stretching at all ! It's always best to get a thorough examination to ascertain where the tightness is in your particular system, check your movement patterns, posture and get appropriate treatment and exercises to address any dysfunction.
If you would like to book a session across any of our three sites then please either book online using the link at the top of this page or feel free to give us a ring to discuss your needs.