Ready to learn about the second group of muscles that helps you when you have lower back muscle tightness and aches? In the first article of this fiver part series, “What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”, I discussed the hip flexors. In this article, I will discuss the hamstrings in the same Q & A format. Let’s begin.
Q: Where are the hamstring muscles?
A: These long muscles start at your sit bones and attach to behind your knee. They include semitendinosis, semimembrinosis, and biceps femoris. Yes, the hamstrings are a set of three different muscles.
Q: Why should the hamstring muscles be stretch?
A: When they are tight, they pull on your pelvis causing your lower back to get rounded. This causes compression to your spine. Compression can lead to tightness, aches and eventually lower back pain and problems
Q: How should the hamstrings be stretched?
A: They should be stretched with your tail bone pushed out, not tucked in. But, make sure your lower back is not ‘locked’ in an arched position. Also, your knees should be straight.
Q: What are some examples of hamstring stretches?
A: There are many variations and positions. I will discuss some starting with the positions that are easiest to perform correctly.
1. Lie on your back with your buttock near a wall. Place one heel on the wall and the other foot flat on the floor with knee bent. Slide your heel along the wall until you can straighten your knee gently. Bring your buttocks closer to the wall for a further stretch. If you cannot straighten your knee all the way, move your buttocks back from the wall until you can and still feel and gentle stretch.
2. When you are comfortable with the first example position, you can do the same exercise using a towel, sheet or ring around your heel for support, instead of the wall. For a further stretch, you can flex your foot and turn your toes either inward or outward.
3. An advanced position would be in standing. Place your heel on a low table or chair. Make sure your tail bone is pushed out gently. Next, bend forward coming from the hips. Make sure your back is not rounded but in ‘neutral’.
4. Another advanced position is the standing forward bend. Often, people ’round’ their back from bending at the lower spine. It is important to bend from the hips and keep the tailbone out without arching your back. Also, keep your knees straight. (same principles apply to the hamstring stretch performed in sitting with your legs straight)
Q: How often and how many times should I stretch my hamstrings?
A: If you do not experience sharp pain, which I talk about below, you can hold the position for 30-60 seconds 1-2 times in the a.m. then 1-2 times in the p.m. to help build length in your muscles. Be sure not to ‘bounce’ in the stretch. Alternatively, you can oscillate in and out of the stretch gently 10 times 1-2 times in the a.m. and 1-2 times in the p.m.
Q: What should I be careful of when stretching my hamstrings?
A: You should not force a deep stretch cause you can irritate your sciatic nerve. If you feel a sharp pain, you are probably irritating the sciatic nerve. It is best to use the oscillating technique mentioned above. In this case,do not go into a deep stretch.
Q: What are some helpful hints and tips about the hamstring muscles?
A: If you are doing these stretches and everyday you have the same amount of tightness, it may not just be the length of the muscles. It could be the ability of the muscles to move from left to right. Certain massaging techniques that moves the muscles left to right may help with this. Also, be aware you may have more of a nerve issue rather than a muscle tightness. Furthermore, If you have a muscle tear, it would be wise to be under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. Often, muscle tears do not like to be stretched until enough healing has taken place.
I hope this helps you have a better understanding of your hamstrings. It is important to understand why you are stretching a particular muscle group. When you understand more about your body, it helps to do your exercises safe and correct. In the next article, I will address the chest muscles in detail. The chest muscles, like the hamstrings and hip flexors, play an important role on the pelvis which affects the lower back. This will be discussed in great detail in Part III of ” What Do I Need To Stretch For My Lower Back Exercise Program?”
Jodi Jainchill PT, CFMT