Should I stretch tight hamstrings? This is an interesting question and the first thing we need to talk about is – what are tight hamstrings?
Your hamstrings are made up of three muscles at the back of your legs – semimembranosus – attaches from the pelvis to the inside of the knee; semitendinosus – attaches from the pelvis to the inside of the knee; and biceps femoris – attaches from the base of the pelvis and the outside of the knee.
The feeling of tightness can occur when the muscles are weak due to an imbalance of muscle activation, a hamstring tear or inflamed tendons at the attachment points. More commonly these occur at the sites of the pelvis where there is more movement from the pelvis and femur bone. If a tear has occurred tightness can be felt due to the scar tissue build up which is stronger and less flexible than muscle fibres. Inflamed hamstring tendons can be painful and feels similar to a hamstring tear – common symptoms include pain when stretching past a certain point, aching legs when sitting and limited range of movement. There are many more reasons to feeling tight but these are very common.
How can tears, inflammation and tightness occur? Usually from injuries gained in accidents and falls or overuse over time where there is instability from the body elsewhere. This can be due to a lack of pelvic stability or forcing a range of motion that the body is not ready for. An example of this can be a yoga practitioner constantly stretching to get into the splits but not having enough strength and stability in the pelvis to support the muscle and the femur bone. The hamstrings get irritated and inflamed and may eventually tear.
Getting a scan to see if there is a tear is a good place to start so go see your health professional for a referral. Once that is done talk to your Pilates instructor about setting up a hamstring strengthening program. This takes us back to the initial question – should we stretch tight hamstrings? This may provide some initial relief but generally a tightness is felt when the muscles need strengthening. If there is a tear do not stretch! It’s tempting but that would be like repeatedly pulling a cut apart. You will delay the healing process and possibly make it worse. If there is inflammation it’s best to stay away from stretching until the area has settled.
There are many safe and effective hamstring strengthening exercises. A very common and accessible exercise is the bridge on the mat and here is a variation that I commonly teach which uses a foam roller and a ball.
I love this exercise because the ball helps to stabilise the pelvis and the foam roller adds some instability for the hamstrings. Muscles are meant to be moved so rolling the roller forward and backwards engages the hamstrings and gets them to lengthen and contract.
Here is another variation of bridge going into single leg variation and using the muscles in 3 ranges.
The Pilates equipment is great for adding resistance and support to allow for the opportunity to teach the body new movement patterns to minimise the recurrence of injury or weakness. By working on pelvic stability it can give the hamstring muscles the freedom to relax and not have to work so hard to stabilise during movement.
Book in with us to start getting your hamstrings strong and flexible!