Tight Hamstrings - Causes, Treatment and Exercises to Stretch, Loosen

There is nothing like a torn hamstring to ruin a training program and tight hamstrings are a warming sign that there is a risk that a tear is imminent.

A pulled or torn hamstring is a serious and debilitating injury that may need long periods of rest, physiotherapy, medical attention or even surgery. The tendons of the hamstring can be over-extended or torn off the muscles, which can themselves be damaged.

The quite small hamstrings consist of three long muscles: the biceps femoris, semi-membranosus, and semi-tendinosus muscles. These muscles extend from your buttocks to the area behind your knees, on the inside and outside of the back of the legs. They not only assist in bending the knee, they stabilize the joint when you are jogging, running, walking and twisting. It's crucial that these muscles remain flexible so that they can do their job properly.

To check your hamstrings, position yourself so that your legs are straight. Reach down from the waist with both hands in the direction of your toes.

This action extends your hamstrings. If there is any pronounced pain when you do this exercise one of your hamstring may be pulled (there is usually a lot of pain when it first happens, for severe tears). Do not do workouts until you have requested medical attention.

If you only feel a stiffness or tightness in the back of your legs, without significant pain, your hamstrings are just taut and you can stretch and exercise them. This will loosen the tightness and relax your hamstrings and help avert tearing.

How to treat tight hamstrings and avoid a tear
How to treat tight hamstrings and avoid a tear. Source: Pubic Domain

Causes of Tight Hamstrings

Hamstrings can be taut from inactivity, not being warmed-up or left-over soreness from previous exercise sessions. This is rather widespread and generally innocuous as long as you stretch, warm-up and workout the hamstrings with care. Several components can play a key role in causing taut hamstrings. Prolonged sitting can keep the hamstrings in a fixed position or contracted, leading to reduced flexibility (See: Activity Based Working and Getting Up, Active, Healthy at Work). Not extending your hamstrings by using stretching routines before exercise can cause tight hamstrings. ( See: Stretching Exercises Before a Run or Workout May NOT Reduce Injuries). Lower back difficulties can trigger pressure on the sciatic nerve that extends down the backs of your legs. Over-extending the lower back when bending over can cause hamstring tautness. The tendency for taut hamstrings could be related to your genetics as some people appear to have more problems than others.

Impact of Tight Hamstrings on Hips Pelvis and Lower Back

Every part of our anatomy are connected in some way. A problem or injury that developed in one locality will affect linked areas. For taut hamstrings, the impact is not constrained to the backs of your legs. Tight hamstrings will have an impact of your hips, your lower back and even your pelvis. With tight hamstring muscles, your bodies has to depend on other muscles to do the job of the hamstrings. Muscles in the buttocks, lower back and hips may be strained and become more prone to injury. Even the muscles in the abdomen may be weakened because of taut hamstring muscles.

Loosening Hamstrings through Careful Stretching

Flexibility and subtleness are the keys for to hamstring muscles. The best way to keep your hamstrings flexible is to do regular stretching activities, not only for loosening your hamstrings but also for stretching your lower back as well. Sit with one leg somewhat bent, then rotate the other straight leg inwards and stretch forward. Maintain the stretch for about 30 seconds. Next rotate the leg outwards and lean forward for about 30 seconds. Repeat this stretching exercise with the other leg. Next, lie on your back with both legs stretched out straight. Now lift one leg, holding it straight. Extend it up as far as possible while keeping it straight. Have somebody keep the leg up if you can't do it yourself, and gently and slowly move the leg in the direction of your head until you feel the muscles stretch.

In some situations, extending the hamstrings may not be enough. You may require to employ other procedures to relax taut hamstrings. Applying a warm, moist heat pack covered in piece of cloth to your hamstrings for 25 minutes is often very effective. Also massaging the hamstrings will boost body-fluid flow to the sinews and help to loosen them and make them more flexible. If your hamstring tautness is caused from smaller back difficulties, you probably visits to a chiropractor or personal therapist can assist to rectify the problem. 

Other Exercises for Stretching and Loosening the Hamstrings

Double Leg Hamstring Stretch

Sit on the floor with both legs stretched-out and together. Point both toes in the direction of the ceiling. Lean forward at the hips while extending your hands in the direction of your toes. Do your best to hold your back completely straight while doing this. You should feel a dragging feeling on your hamstrings. This is untying them up. Hold the extension for a about 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat about 3-5 times. If you have a workout colleague, get them to softly push against on your back as you lean forward. Slow and gradual force will assist you relax your hamstrings even more. Do not bounce while you do this exercise.

Single Leg Hamstring Stretch

Sit with one leg stretched-out with the toes on that leg pointing up. Bend your other leg inward in the direction of your straightened leg and put the base of your foot on the inside of the knee . This will create a number 4 shape with your legs. Bend your torso ahead at the hips in the direction of your straight leg while reaching for your toes with both hands. This hamstring extension works on a single hamstring and stretches is in a unique way. Hold the extension for about 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat for 3-5 times then swap legs and repeat.

Wall Push Hamstring Stretch

Find a strong partition or fence. Place both hands against it and place one foot back behind you while holding it flat against the ground. Cease pushing with the leg when you start to sense tightness in the hamstring for that leg. Sustain most of your weight on the other leg which should be bent and positioned close to the partition or fence. Lean ahead in the direction of your hands while holding your back foot flat on the ground. This will extend your hamstring even more. Do this until you sense a good extension, but well short of creating any feeling of discomfort or pain. Hold the extension for about 10 seconds and then relax. Repeat about 3 times then swap legs and repeat.

Stability Ball Hamstring Curls

This workout needs the use of an inflatable stability ball. Lie down on the floor with your back straight and place both arms on the floor. Put both your feet on the ball while keeping both legs straight. Pull the ball back in the direction of your body with your heels as you lift your hips up into the air. Raise your hips as high as possible as you angle your knees. Keep your back straight and arms on the floor right through this motion. Push the ball away from you again by stretching your legs out again and lowering your hips to the floor. Repeat this exercise for about three times with 10 repetitions.

Assisted Hamstring Stretch

Some persons with restricted mobility or bad backs may find it hard to do these exercises. Some hamstring stretches can be done using a bet, rope or exercise band of cord. Pass the belt or cord around one foot. Lie down flat on the floor with your back straight and legs stretched out. Raise the leg with the rope into the air maintaining your leg straight. Pull on the cord or band in order that your toes angle in the direction of your face. You should feel a stretch on your taut hamstring. If you are not feeling any stretching, pull harder and lift your leg up higher. Hold the stretch for about 10 seconds then relax. Repeat for 3-5 times then swap legs and repeat.

Ah to be that flexible
Ah to be that flexible. Source: Pubic Domain
It pays to keep flexing and stretching your hamstrings to avoid injury
It pays to keep flexing and stretching your hamstrings to avoid injury. Source: Pubic Domain
The hamstring muscles - see where they are and their relationship
The hamstring muscles - see where they are and their relationship. Source: Pubic Domain
Hamstring stretching exercises - learn more in this article
Hamstring stretching exercises - learn more in this article. Source: Pubic Domain
More about the hamstring muscles
More about the hamstring muscles. Source: Pubic Domain
Learn why stretching hamstring muscles may not be enough to avoid injury
Learn why stretching hamstring muscles may not be enough to avoid injury. Source: Pubic Domain