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Tight Hamstrings; Is Stretching Alone the Answer?

Tight Hamstrings;  Is Stretching Alone the Answer?

Jonathan Dunbar DC, MS, CSCS

At Yalich Clinic we evaluate and treat a wide variety of the population, from kids and adults to college and professional athletes. A common condition and complaint that presents from a lot of these patients are hamstring injuries or chronically tight hamstrings.  Despite being told by many health and fitness professionals to “stretch more,” these individuals still report that “my hamstrings are always tight,” “I stretch but it keeps coming back,” or “I keep pulling my hamstrings when I exercise.” If consistent stretching does not improve the flexibility of the muscles or decrease the tension, then the question should be asked “why am I stretching.” More importantly, one should be asking “why are my hamstrings always tight?”

The hamstrings are a muscle group that originate on the bottom of the pelvis, and insert on the lower leg behind the knee. The hamstring muscles have many functions as we move, such as bending the knee and extending the hip, but also contribute to our standing posture when we are not moving. The hamstrings and glutes act with muscles on the front side of our body called our “hip flexors” to balance our pelvis. The pelvis can be thought of as a group of bones which forms a bowl. If our “bowl” is filled with water, we want to keep it level. If the bowl tips too far forward or too far backwards, water will spill out.

Commonly, patients who present to our office with chronically tight hamstrings or hamstring injuries have an unbalanced pelvis. When looking at their posture, we examine what we call an “anterior pelvic tilt,” meaning our bowl or pelvis is tipping forward, spilling water out of the front. This posture is generally caused by tight hip flexors (does sitting too much during the day ring a bell?), and weak abdominals. To oppose our pelvis or bowl tipping too far forward, our body will activate our hamstrings and “extensors” in an attempt to keep it as neutral as possible leading to “tight hammys!” Below is a great picture depicting the balance we are discussing with a balanced pelvis on the left, an anterior pelvis in the middle (spilling our water from the front), and a posterior pelvis on the right (spilling our water out the back).

In this case, if our only treatment is stretching the hamstrings, the tightness will keep coming back! Instead we must address the cause, or the “why” of this problem. By stretching instead the tight hip flexors on the front, and strengthening the weak abdominals, we create a more balanced or neutral position of our pelvis. If the pelvis is in a neutral position, the hamstrings no longer have to “stay tight” or active in order prevent it from tilting forward. Like magic, without stretching the hamstrings the tension is reduced or gone, and more importantly does not come back!

At Yalich Clinic we pride ourselves in evaluating the whole person, and asking the all-important question of “WHY.” By evaluating the body from a functional approach, we can address the cause of your symptoms, and provide faster and longer lasting relief.  If you have been battling the same old injury, tightness, stress, or pain, contact the Yalich Clinic for your consultation and evaluation today.