Tight hamstrings can diminish the quality of your life. They are one of the most important muscle groups in the body.
Tight hamstrings are responsible for hip and knee movements when walking, running, and tilting your pelvis. Because they are important for so many life functions, when you have tight hamstrings, your life can really suck.
The hamstrings are so crucial to movement. Because of this, it makes them one of the most injury-prone areas in the body.
Whether you’re a top-level athlete or spend most of the day sitting at a desk, you’re still susceptible to hamstring tightness and pain.
The good news is, your recovery starts now.
In this article, we’ll break down how to begin the healing process from hamstring tightness.
How to Heal Tight Hamstrings With These Simple Tips
What Causes Tight Hamstrings?
Before delving straight into remedies and stretches for tight hamstrings, it’s best to have an idea of why this tightness is occurring. Learning what’s happening in the body gives you a better chance of preventing future injury and pain.
The Anatomy Of Your Hamstrings
Your hamstrings consist of 3 long, thin muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris. Tendons connect the hamstring muscles to bones in the pelvis, knee, and lower leg.
* The semitendinosus muscle is at the back of the thigh, resting between the other two hamstring muscles. This muscle starts at your pelvis, extending to the tibia (the shin). It’s the longest of the hamstrings.
* The semimembranosus extends to the back of the tibia from the pelvis. It’s located at the end of the thigh, allowing it to extend, the tibia to rotate, and the knee to flex. It’s the largest of the hamstrings.
* The muscle on the outer part of the thigh in the biceps femoris. This muscle extends to the top of the fibula bone by the knee. It allows your knee to flex and rotate and your hip to extend. There are two parts to the biceps femoris:
* The long head attaches to the posterior (lower rear) part of the ischium (hip bone).
* The short head attaches to the femur (thigh) bone.
Potential Reasons For Tight Hamstrings
Pain or stiffness that you feel in the back of your legs may be due to tight hamstrings. Yet, there are a variety of other factors to take into that may be causing discomfort.
If you’re experiencing tightness or soreness in your hamstrings, it may, in part, be due to genetics. Some people are born with shorter hamstrings, and some are born with longer or looser ones. Generally, women are born with more flexibility in their hips and legs than men.
Stretches for tight hamstrings can help to lengthen the stiffness that you’re feeling, even if your muscles are shorter.
2. A lot of exercise and not a lot of stretching
Athletes or other active people who do not stretch are likely to have tight hamstrings. Muscles that remain tight after a workout increases the risk of muscle injury or tears. A little bit of stretching or yoga for tight hamstrings can go a long way in your body and health.
3. Weakness in the lower back
There is a correlation between tight hamstrings and lower back pain. Pain or weakness in the lower back may cause pain or weakness in the hamstrings and vice versa. (Click here to read about how to heal your back pain!)
The reason for this is simple.
Hamstrings originate at the pelvis. If the hamstrings are tight, “they will pull on the pelvis, causing it to tilt.” Ergo causing a posterior tilt.
This tilting pulls your pelvis out of alignment, which makes it necessary for your lower back to try to compensate in other areas and movements. We’ll touch more on the correlation between tight hamstrings and back pain below.
The goal is to have a neutral and healthy spine.
4. Neural tension
What causes tight hamstrings may not be something physical. Neural tension is “an abnormal physiological and/or mechanical response from the nervous system that limits its normal range of motion or stretch capabilities.”
When neural tension is occurring, it usually has nothing to do with the physical tightness of the hamstrings. Instead, something has gone askew with the nervous system, signaling a pain response.
5. Previous hamstring strain
One of the most significant factors in predicting a hamstring injury is whether you have injured your hamstring once before. Treatment for tight hamstrings or a hamstring injury is crucial. If you do not give your body enough time to rest and heal, you’ll likely re-injure yourself. If you resume the activities that you were doing that led to the injury, it’s also likely that you’ll re-injure yourself.
Tendinosis is a chronic condition where collagen deteriorates in the tendons. Collagen is a structural protein that is necessary for healthy muscle functioning and movement. When the collagen breaks down in the tendons, it’s usually from overuse.
The reason for tight hamstrings may be one or a combination of the above factors. Whatever the reason, be kind to your body. More severe injury may occur if you do not allow time for proper rest and healing.
What Problems Can Tight Hamstrings Cause?
Of course, one of the main problems with tight hamstrings is the increased risk of additional injury. This further injury may take the form of:
1. Muscle strain/tearing
When your muscle is tight, and you are forcing it to go further than it is currently able to go, straining or tearing is more likely. Go ahead and treat a strained muscle at home, but find a doctor if you have a tear. If you have ever had a torn muscle, you know how painful it is. Extended rehabilitation, including physical therapy, may be what you need.
2. Popliteus injury
The popliteus is a muscle located at the back of the knee. It’s what helps to unlock the knee from a straightened position. If your hamstrings are tight, it may cause an extra strain on the popliteus muscle or tendon. This strain happens because straightening your knee is much more difficult with tight hamstrings.
3. Hip and pelvis rotation (back pain)
Pain in the back is a significant risk if your hamstrings are tight. As mentioned above, tight hamstrings can cause the hips and pelvis to rotate out of proper alignment. The shortness in the hamstrings tilts the pelvis backward, which flattens the back. The flattening in your back may be the reason for the pain that comes along with tight hamstrings.
Correlation Between Tight Hamstrings And Back Pain
Speaking of back pain and tight hamstrings, let’s break down the correlation:
We’ve already explained how tight hamstrings make the pelvis tilt backward, which strains the back. But what’s going on in the joints and muscles that causes the pain?
The ischial tuberosities are the parts of the pubic bone that the hamstrings pull on when they are tight. Adjacent joints move at the same time because they are “coupled” together in movement.
When the pelvis tilts back, the vertebrae in your lower back flex forward.
When this happens, any lifting or bending forward motion uses flexion from the lower spine.
This is not how the spine functions in a natural state. Flexion in the lower spine puts a strain on ligaments around the vertebrae and has the potential to make bulging disks worse.
This is why tight hamstrings can cause back pain. And possibly back spasms.
Now that we’ve covered reasons for and problems caused by tight hamstrings, it’s time for the good stuff. Treatment!
There are many avenues to choose from on the path towards healing. The right way forward depends on your unique needs. The good news is, most hamstring injuries can heal on their own with enough time and rest.
An At-Home Remedy
When your hamstrings are in pain from an injury or repetitive use, there are a few things you can do:
Resting your leg is most important, especially if your pain/injury is severe. Take it as a signal from your body to press the “pause” button.
Ice will help to reduce the pain and swelling associated with tight hamstrings or a hamstring injury. Use ice for 20-30 minutes at a time every three to four hours until your pain is gone. Depending on the severity of your pain, this may be necessary for a few days.
An elastic band wrapped around the injury can help to reduce the swelling.
This helps to reduce blood flow to help reduce swelling as well.
5. Stretch and strengthen
Take time to rest and care for your hamstrings. Then, help prevent further issues by implementing regular stretching and strengthening practices.
Yoga To Relieve Tight Hamstrings
Besides the immediate rest actions mentioned above to reduce the pain and swelling, there is also yoga for tight hamstrings. Yoga can help bring mobility back into your muscles. With these simple postures, you can begin to loosen and heal the tightness.
Keep in mind that these poses are not meant for every type of hamstring pain. Consult a medical professional before continuing with any sort of treatment program, especially if your injury is on the more severe side of the spectrum.
As always, with yoga, listen to your body. Only continue with stretches or yoga poses if it feels okay and stop if you have any sharp pain.
Relief Yoga Flow For the Back of Your Legs
Hold each of the following poses for 7-10 slow breaths, then repeat on the other side of the body.
1. Downward dog: Adho Mukha Svanasana
Come into this posture and with your knees bent generously. First, focus more on keeping a straight spine with your tailbone tilted up to the sky. With your heart-melting back towards your legs, start to bend into one knee and then the other. After a few moments of “pedaling” out your legs, begin to straighten both knees, pulling your heels towards your mat. Hold the position, breathing into your hamstrings.
Read about downward dog and its benefits.
2. Triangle: Utthita Trikonasana
While in your triangle pose, be mindful of your foundation. Ground the outside edges of your feet into the ground to stabilize the lower half of your body. Keep a micro bend in your knee, so you do not overextend your joint. As you open up your wingspan and stack your shoulders, feel free to bring the ground up to you with help from a block.
3. Standing wide-legged forward fold: Prasarita Padottanasana
Step your feet as wide as your wingspan, placing ankles underneath wrists. But, with tight hamstrings, you may find that you need to shorten your stance significantly until you find more space. Again, using a block to bring the ground up to you is a great way to ease into this pose.
4. Side lunge: Skandasana
With skandasana, use a block underneath your bum for more support if the stretch is too intense. Use your hands for help in front or behind as well.
5. Pyramid: Parsvottanasana
Like triangle pose, keep a micro bend in your knee to protect your joint in this pose. Stand with fingertips on the ground, behind your back, or on blocks directly underneath your shoulders.
6. Standing splits: Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana
If your hands do not rest comfortably on the ground, grab two blocks for support underneath. Walk your hands (with the yoga blocks if you need) slightly forward. Lift one leg towards the sky as you release the crown of your head towards the earth. Ground into the standing leg. Focus more on the sensations in your hamstrings and quadriceps than lifting your leg as high as you can.
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7. Standing forward fold: Uttanasana
Release your raised leg and both arms to the mat, tilting your tailbone up to the sky. Pull your navel in towards your spine. Keep a slight bend in both knees, and slowly work to straighten your legs.
8. Half splits: Ardha Hanumanasana
With your legs in position, inhale to lift your heart. Flatten your back, then on the exhale, drop your chest towards the front leg. Be mindful to keep your hips in alignment. Imagine that you’re tugging the front of the mat to meet the back.
9. Seated forward fold: Paschimottanasana
If it’s challenging to find a flat back while seated, sit on the edge of a folded blanket. Inhale to lift both arms overhead. On the exhale, with a flat back, reach forward.
Let your hands fall wherever they fall naturally. Inhale again to flatten your back. Lift your heart forward. On an exhale, pull your navel towards your spine as you release your head and upper body towards your legs.
10. Reclined big toe: Supta Padangusthasana
Start lying on the floor. Bend into one knee and press your thigh into your chest. Ground the leg that’s on the floor. Take your yoga strap and place it around the lifted foot. Place both sides of the yoga strap into the hand on the same side of the body. Begin to straighten your leg, keeping your foot flexed and heel reaching towards the sky.
11. Corpse: Savasana
Stretch your legs out along with your arms beside your body. Let your limbs fall heavy into the floor with your palms facing the sky. Snuggle your shoulder blades underneath your body to create a shelf for your heart. Rest in Savasana for 3-11 minutes, soaking in the nutrients of your practice.
What causes tight hamstrings varies on the individual. If you like to work out but don’t like to stretch, you may experience pain and tightness.
Genetics may play a role in the tightness of your muscles. If you’re experiencing tight hamstrings and back pain, fixing your posture will benefit your health in the long run.
Whatever the case, treatment for tight hamstrings is possible. Follow the simple remedies and yoga for tight hamstrings above, and start down the path of healing.