Do you believe your back pain is because you don’t stretch often enough? Do you stretch and stretch and STILL have tight hamstrings? Hamstring tightness is often associated with back pain. I often see people that feel their hamstrings are tight, but measure normal for flexibility. I also see very flexible people who really need more tightness to mitigate their injury risk. Here are some conventional and unconventional things to consider. I will update this post soon with photos.
- Normal hamstring length has two values. With your knee straight, normal is considered 80 degrees, so your leg is straight just short of a 90-degree angle with your trunk. If you flex the hip up with the knee bent, your shin should be at a 30-degree angle from vertical (or 60 degrees up from a “90/90” position.
- Your hamstrings are influenced by your diaphragm. The Postural Restoration Institute teaches brilliant techniques to address this issue. In all humans, the right side of the diaphragm has more muscle mass than the left, so the right side will always win. PRI uses research and applied anatomy to show that this inherent asymmetry biases left hamstring weakness, scoliosis, right hip arthritis, IT Band tightness, and more. If you have hamstring tightness or an ACL tear, especially one on the left, find a practitioner on the PRI website, or call around to physical therapy clinics and see who has taken at least one of their courses. You can also go through this video I put on YouTube for clients that I have seen in the office. Note that other breathing practices do not seem to get to this structural issue. I treat a lot of people that do various forms of yoga and breathing that have restricted diaphragm function.
- It is more problematic to have asymmetric hamstring length over being tight on both sides. The biggest risk factor for an injury is a previous history of an injury. The second biggest factor is asymmetry. A four percent different right to left is enough to elevate your injury risk. See #2 for solutions.
- Hamstrings often store fear. Fear is an indication that The Universe does not agree with you. For me, my fear in my hamstrings was my fear of coming out of the closet with my psychic and mediumship skills, believing that I would lose all of my friends and business. The reality is that standing fully in who I am has resulted in more friendships, deeper connections with my existing friends, and more business. It has also resulted in greater symmetry and strength in my hamstrings. I did not change my exercise type or intensity at all. My pilates instructors have been amazed. You can use a Creation Invocation to resolve this, such as “Across all dimensions, I release my fear.” and repeat it until you don’t get any further change.
- Flexibility (or lack therof) can be an indication of boundaries. I was raised to consider everyone else’s feelings and needs before my own, which resulted in me functioning like a doormat for many people. I was physically flexible because I was a spiritual contortionist! My hamstrings are now “normally tight” and I actually feel a stretch of the muscle instead of my sciatic nerve when I stretch them. Conversely, people who have very tight hamstrings sometimes have a lot of rigid rules and beliefs in their lives.
- Hamstrings are rarely the primary source of hamstring tightness. Tightness is a secondary reaction to abnormal tension on the nerve, or a skewing of the length-tension relationship all muscles have. The latter is due to joint malalignment. Treating the muscle as a primary problem, particularly when there is a pain involved, is extrememly inefficient. Find a practicitioner that considers where the nerve may be compressed and knows how to look at you as a whole system. Sometimes the primary nerve compression is not at the sciatic nerve, but at the base of the skull, for example.
- Agressive stretching is not serving you. The stress-strain curve of a muscle is exponential, which means that stretching more agressively increases injury risk. A sustained, 30-60 second stretch has the most evidence to support it. The other problem with stretching agressively is that you can compensate by rotating your pelvis, and thus skipping over your hamstrings altogether.
What has your experience been with getting better hamstring flexibility or function for yourself?