Why Stretching your Hamstrings Probably Isn’t the Answer
At one time or another, everyone has experienced or known someone who has dealt with chronic hamstring “tightness” that doesn’t seem to go away. Constant stretching, foam rolling, and even massage may seem to have temporary results, however they are short-lived and do not seem to have any lasting effect. It is common belief that stretching will allow your muscles to lengthen and this will in turn increase flexibility, however the problem often is a little more complex.
The nervous system is ultimately what runs the show when it comes to movement and if it perceives a motion as threatening or foreign, it is going to try and prevent that motion from occurring. A few of the common dysfunctional patterns that can lead to chronically “tight” hamstrings include, underactive deep core musculature, shortened hip flexors/underactive gluteal function, and weak adductors. If key stabilizing structures are unable to do their job, your body is going to find a way to hold things down and this is where the hamstrings often tend kick in.
What exactly is the deep core? Also known as the Intrinsic Stabilization Subsystem (ISS), the deep core consists of the Diaphragm, Transversus Abdominis, Multifidi, and Pelvic Floor Musculature as seen below. Together, these muscles generate intra-abdominal pressure and ultimately stabilize the low back and pelvis.
If any one of these structures are not working efficiently (which is another discussion), there will be a deficiency in generating maximum core stability. This is where the body asks for assistance from other muscles. The hamstrings attach to the bottom of the pelvis and contribute to pelvic movement, however in the case of an underactive deep core, they take on a new role as pelvic stabilizers. Their job is to now hold on to the pelvis and prevent excessive movement from occurring. Once proper utilization of the deep core musculature can be restored, the hamstrings no longer have to assist in stability and are allowed to relax. To address this issue it is best to find a practitioner who can fully assess core stability including breathing patterns and your ability to fully activate deep core musculature. Corrective strategies focused on restoring optimal core stability are the answer in this situation and the effects are often convincing.
This isn’t to say that stretching your hamstrings is ALWAYS a bad idea. However, this does not mean spending a few minutes one time a day (or a few times a week) really pushing yourself to work through the problem areas. A more effective approach would be to modify factors throughout the day that are contributing to issue. This could include micro-breaks from sitting while at work throughout the day, improving your posture while standing and sitting, and working on any corrective exercises suggested by your health care provider to specifically address any dysfunction that is occurring. By incorporating these strategies throughout the day, you are more likely to see a lasting improvement.
This short article only briefly touches the surface on this topic. If you have not seen significant progress with solely stretching your hamstrings it is an indication that the problem is originating from somewhere else. Take the time to have an assessment performed and you will be happy with the results.
If you have any questions please feel to comment or contact me. My biggest role as a health care provider is to educate.
“First move well, then move often.” – Gray Cook
David Newton DC, MS, CSCS
455 W. 115th Ave Suite 4
Northglenn, CO 80234
Certified Active Release Technique Provider
Certified Graston Technique Provider
Functional Movement Screen Certified (Levels I & II)
RockDoc (Rocktape Provider)
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (National Strength and Conditioning Association)
Current Team Chiropractor to Denver Broncos Cheerleaders and Denver Outlaws Dance Team
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