Hamstring Muscles: How They Function (And Tighten)

Physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists often recommend hamstring stretches to alleviate lower back pain. Yet, some are still not aware that tightness of the hamstrings is rarely the sole contributor to common back problems. The hamstrings can contribute to low back pain in three ways:

1) by exacerbating any one of the four root causes of pain (disc degeneration, disc bulges, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis),

2) by causing reciprocal inhibition (when a muscle contracts, it inhibits its antagonist muscle from contracting—we’ll explore this phenomenon more in future articles),

or

3) simply by being “overworked” because there is too much sitting around with not enough movement involved. One way or another, hamstring tightness is not the problem. More often than not, they are a symptom of another problem.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

When considering the four root causes of low back pain, it is essential to note that there are three joints between each lumbar straight spine vertebrae (L1-L5): the facet joint on one side of the vertebrae, then the disc above and below it. 

It is possible for any or all three joints to become irritated, either singly or in combination, which can result in perceived “tightness” somewhere along your lumbar spine. 

What Causes Tight Hamstrings?

Hamstrings are muscles that cross the back of the thigh and attach to the tibia, the top part of the shin bone. The hamstrings are often tight because they act as a braking system for running. 

They also help control bending at the knee and balance while standing on one leg.

Tight hamstrings can be caused by sitting for prolonged periods or not stretching enough before physical activity. 

 Injuries to the hamstring, such as a strain from overstretching or excessive force, can also cause tightness. In addition, some people have slowly lower hamstring flexibility than others.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Potential Reasons For Tight Hamstrings

Several factors can cause tightness in the hamstrings. Muscle tightness may be caused by overuse, insufficient regular stretching after exercise, or low collagen levels in the body, which could reduce flexibility.

Potential reasons for tight hamstring muscles include overuse of the hamstrings because they are used frequently during any activity that uses the legs. 

This could be because an individual focuses too much on using leg muscles during regular daily exercises, such as jogging or running, which places extra stress on the hamstrings.

Collagen deficiencies can contribute to tightness as well. Low collagen levels reduce flexibility and increase inflammation in joints and tendons, resulting in stiffness and tiredness. 

When combined with a lack of stretching exercises that rely on continued use of the hamstrings, this condition produces muscle shortening and tightness, as well as pain and discomfort.

Inflammation is another potential reason for tight hamstrings. Muscle-bound creatinine or glycogen is a residue that can accumulate in the hamstrings after strenuous exercise creates lactic acid and other byproducts that cause stiffness and pain. This issue can be resolved with proper stretching post-exercise.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Hamstrings may also become tight due to an improper diet lacking enough collagen protein from red meat sources such as beef, pork, lamb, and veal. These proteins increase inflammation of joints if consumed too frequently without enough flexibility exercises to counteract them. 

A lack of red meat in the diet will not create conditions that lead to tight hamstrings but must be supplemented with collagen from other sources such as fish, chicken, and turkey.

Yoga On How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Yoga, the ancient art of India, has been practiced for thousands of years as a form of exercise and meditation.

This Yoga stretches also help improve athletic performance.

This is because as you practice asanas which are physical postures, the muscles in the body become relaxed and flexible. People who practice using a yoga strap regularly will notice that their hamstrings become less tight and more flexible.

Yoga has been proven to help relieve muscle tension by stretching all the muscles in the body, which includes the hamstrings. This is because when you get into a pose such as a downward  dog, with  arms and leg extended, which relieves tension in the back of your thighs, helping to keep the hamstrings loose.

When you hold these poses for an extended period, there is relaxation not only in the back of your legs but also in various other parts of your body, including in areas where stress might be held within.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Benefits

Tight hamstrings are a common ailment, especially today, where many people sit for long periods. Though various reasons can cause tight hamstrings, the good news is that there are effective ways to treat them no matter what your specific condition may be or why they have developed. Here are three tips to help your hamstring muscle groups.

1) Abdominal strengthening exercises to improve core stability and posture.

2) Hamstring stretching performed at least twice a day with adequate warm-up and cool-down periods before and after each stretch, respectively.

3) Massage Therapy is performed from the top of the hamstring from the hip bone down towards the knee, at least once per week

Static Vs. Dynamic Stretches 

Static Stretching:

One of the most overlooked and most important parts of stretching is the act of stretching. That is, you need to make sure that the muscles are stretched out as far as they will go before you relax them and then go back to your neutral position. The goal is to stretch the muscle as far as it can go and hold it for 10 seconds.

Dynamic Stretches:

Dynamic stretches are a more active type of stretching done by creating a controlled, but not painful, pulling or pushing against a muscle group. 

The difference between dynamic and static stretches is that dynamic stretches involve movement, such as rotating your right arm as if you were trying to wipe something off of an object. A dynamic stretch is designed to prepare your body for the movements you’ll be making during a workout.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Static versus dynamic stretches can have different effects on your muscles and joints, leading to better or worse performance depending on whether they’re done pre-workout or at other times.

Dynamic stretches are often recommended as part of a warm-up routine, but research shows that static stretches may lead to a more beneficial workout.

Static stretching involves holding a muscle in a lengthened position so it can relax and release tightness. 

An excellent example of this type of stretch is touching your toes – think of bending forward from the waist until you feel a pull in your hamstrings – and hold that position for several seconds before relaxing back into a standing position.

Simple Hamstring Stretch

The simple hamstring stretch is good if you lead primarily sedentary lifestyles, such as working in an office where you might be sitting down for long periods. It stretches out the muscles to alleviate any tension or stress, so they don’t act up when you start to exercise.

  1. To begin, stand straight with your feet together with your arms by your side.
  2. Next, take a step forward with the right leg, and with your opposite foot, lift as high as you can, then lean forward without letting your lower back sag.
  3. Make sure to keep your abs contracted and try not to let them protrude from your stomach, do this until it becomes difficult and you feel a pull on your hamstring. Hold this for 10 seconds, then step forward with the other leg and do the same thing.
  4. Repeat 3 times and then swap legs and repeat another 3 times. You can also add weights to this exercise if you’re looking to make it more intense.

The Hurdler Hamstring Stretch

The Hurdler Stretch is good to do before you exercise if you feel like your hamstrings are tight. It helps lengthen the muscles and reduce any lower back pain that might come up due to tightening the hamstring during exercise.

  1. First, stand and slowly straighten yourself with one foot in front of the other with both feet close to the ground.
  2. Lengthen your arms outwards from either side at shoulder level, engage your abdominal muscles and inhale deeply through your nose, then exhale fully from pursed lips making an “ffffff” sound as you release all air from each exhalation.
  3. Next, keep the knees bent until a gentle stretch is felt in both hamstrings.
  4. Hold this for 5 seconds, then inhale deeply again and exhale all the air out once more, making an “ffffff” sound as you release all air from each exhalation.
  5. Repeat this 2 more times until it becomes challenging to make the “ffffff” sound properly during your next inhalation.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

It’s a stretch you can do to make your hamstrings feel free. It works well if you have hip flexors that don’t extend or work correctly and want that tension relieved in the hamstring, relieving any pain you may be experiencing from lack of flexibility.

The Standing Hamstring Stretch requires a little more balance than the Hurdler Stretch, so it’s not for everyone. It also works well if you have hips that don’t extend or work correctly and want that tension relieved in the hamstring, relieving any pain you may be experiencing from lack of flexibility.

Standing Hamstring Stretch (One Leg At A Time).

  1. Stand with your right leg in front of the left, feet about two feet apart.
  2. Grab your right foot with your left hand and place it over the left knee.
  3. Lean forward to the floor until you feel a stretch in your hamstring, feeling the muscles tighten. Hold this for 10 seconds.
  4. Switch legs, stand on other leg and repeat.
  5. Repeat three times on both right and left leg.
  6. If you can’t get your foot up to your knee, try using a stool or something sturdy to get the right height.

You could also use a towel or belt tied around your foot for this stretch. The idea is that you need something that will pull back on your hamstrings while you lean forward.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Wall-supported Single-leg Stretch.

Stand on one leg and then put your other foot up against a wall or sturdy surface. Brace your hands against the wall for support and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hamstring. Hold this for 10 seconds.

Alternate between each leg and repeat three times on each side.

If you can’t get your foot up to the wall, try leaning it against a railing or something else that will hold it up without too much trouble so that you don’t have to stand on left foot the whole time. This is also a way to do this stretch if you want to use extra assistance, such as holding onto a chair or something else helping you balance.

Foam Roller On Hamstrings.

To start, sit on the floor and place the foam rollers under your hamstrings. Use your hands for support and roll backward and forwards slowly. Stop when you feel pain and hold this for 10 seconds before moving again. Repeat 2 more times and then swap legs and repeat once more on this side.

Lay on the floor, positioning the roller under your hamstrings.

Use your hands for support and roll from side to side slowly underneath your hamstring. Stop when you feel a tender spot and hold this for 10 seconds before moving again if necessary. Repeat 2 more times and then switch legs and repeat once more on this side.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

Massage Therapy And Soothe Abdominal Muscles

Yes, massage therapy is an option that’s available for people who are experiencing pain or tightness in their hamstrings. You can find a therapist with, typically, some training in manual therapy to assess your leg and make sure there isn’t anything else going on there.

A certified Massage Therapist will be able to assess your leg and make sure there isn’t anything else going on there.

They can also work on your hamstring muscles to get more movement and flexibility. Getting a massage is one way of working on stress relief, which is a great benefit. Also, a helpful option is physical therapy wherein a physical therapist checks and crafts out an actionable routine to relieve stress in inflamed zones.

How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

The Towel Hamstring Stretch.

The Towel Hamstring Stretch is a great way to stretch the hamstrings if you often sit at your desk. It would help if you also had some rubber tubing for this exercise purchased at any sporting goods store. All you need to do is loop the tubing around your foot and tie it off, then wrap the other side around your right knee. You use one hand to control the tension in the tube (pulling toward you) and the other to push back like in an elliptical normal range of motion for 8-12 repetitions.

  1. Start with both feet on the ground, about 6 inches apart, then place a towel or something similar between your feet.
  2. Grab one end of the towel with each hand, then lean forward.
  3. You should feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold this for 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat three times on each leg.
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
How To Relieve Tight Hamstrings

FAQ

What Is The Best Treatment For Tight Hamstrings?

The best treatment for tight hamstrings is to use ice and heat on the affected area. Ice should be used after activity to reduce inflammation. 

Heat should be used before, during, or after activity to increase blood flow and keep your muscles loose. A professional massage will also help stretch the muscles for less tension. A chiropractor can help with the traction of the back to reduce pain. These all will help increase blood flow and decrease tension in the muscles.

Will A Massage Help Tight Hamstrings?

Massages could help with tight hamstrings. But if your hamstrings are tight, you should see the doctor because it might be something else that’s making them tight. Tight hamstrings can be caused by other problems like an injury or nerve pain. And a massage will definitely help in such cases of a hamstring injury.

Hamstring tightness is common, especially if you sit a lot. Sitting shortens your hamstrings, and then when you try to stretch them out, they feel too tight. A massage can help with that feeling of tightness. But it’s not the only factor in hamstring flexibility.

Why Can’t I Loosen My Hamstrings?

 Tight hamstrings can cause back pain and make walking difficult, especially if you have a low blood supply. 

The precise reason for tight hamstrings is unknown, but one theory is that tight hamstrings make it difficult to slowly bend forward because your hands want to reach down and grab your feet. Some people might not be able to touch their toes during a deep squat because they’re compensating for tight hamstrings.

How Can I Loosen My Hamstrings Without Stretching?

You can loosen your hamstrings without stretching by:

1. Lying face down or on your side and gently bending one knee and pulling it back toward your body.

2. Sitting with your legs crossed and leaning forward from the hips.

3. Standing with your feet about two feet apart and lifting both of your heels off of the ground, trying to keep your knee straight as possible.

4. Slowly rotating one of your legs around the other, making sure not to put any pressure on the lower back area while doing so.