Are your hamstrings actually tight?

Has anyone ever asked you to “touch your toes?” This has always been the benchmark to determine if your hamstrings are tight. But in actuality, is this testing your hamstrings? To determine this, first we have to look at the motion itself. The motion is accomplished by stretching both the legs and the lower back. The position of the pelvis and amount of curve in the spine is used to determine where the motion is coming from. If the legs are tight, you will not be able to touch your toes, or if you are, most of the motion will come from the low back.  Let’s say minimal motion is coming from the legs. This still does not prove the hamstrings are the culprit. A hidden factor is present here–the sciatic nerve. It is believed that more than half of the population is more neurally tight than muscularly tight. Traditional static stretching can aggravate the nerve and sometimes cause a person to lose motion. Nerve glides and light neural tensioning can be used to increase its mobility. In cases where the muscle fibers of the hamstrings become restricted and it truly is muscular restriction, light static stretching and actively using the muscle without overstressing it will improve the mobility.

What if you can touch your toes but the hamstrings still feel tight. Well this is most commonly caused by a muscle imbalance. The hamstrings can become over lengthened from stretching and a person can touch their toes despite the underlying feeling of restriction. This sensation will occur when the hamstrings are too weak in comparison to the quads or when the quads and hip flexors are muscularly restricted. In either of these situations, the quads and hip flexors will pull the pelvis into a forward rotated position. Since the normal length to tension ratio is off, a tight feeling will occur. Strengthening of the hamstring and stretching of both the hip flexors and quads are needed to reduce this sensation.

Rear view shot of the highlighted joints in a runner’s foot

A trained eye is needed to help determine the cause of this restriction and perform a full functional motion screen. Come on down to Advanced PMR for a full evaluation to improve your flexibility and prevent future injuries.

Posted in: Physical Therapy

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