Do you have “tight” hamstrings? Have you stretched and stretched and stretched your hamstrings without any appreciable change in “tightness”? If this sounds like you, keep reading!
Many people suffer from “tight” hamstrings. In fact, many medical professionals place a lot of blame on these “tight” hamstrings for those suffering from low back pain. But what exactly does it mean when your hamstrings are “tight”? (this will also explain why I keep putting “ “ around the word tight 🙂
Conventional thinking tells us that if something is perceived as being tight that we must stretch it. I get it. I’ve been there. Somethings tight, it must be short, so stretch it. But what happens when stretching doesn’t solve the problem? Could it be that it isn’t short, or even actually tight, to begin with? In my experience, more times than not, stretching is in fact not the answer.
You see, our bodies can be easily broken down into a series of segments that require mobility or stability
When something such as pain or faulty movement patterns (i.e. core weakness, instability) persist, our bodies like to compensate. And one explanation for “tight” hamstrings is compensation using this “Joint-By-Joint Approach”. Looking at the provided image, you can see that the lumbar spine (low back) is an area that needs stability and the hips need mobility. If, for whatever reason, we lack that stability, our body will compensate and we see a role reversal. A situation in which we stiffen up in the hamstrings/hips as a result of INstability in the core. Basically these two regions have changed roles. The result? Perceived tightness in the hamstring. The reason I say perceived is that by simply activating the right core muscles, often times this hamstring mobility improves immediately.
Another explanation for the perception of tightness in the hamstrings is that due to our common modern posture, we tend to stand with our pelvis “dumped” forward (think of the posture of a dancer or gymnast – many of us have our pelvis’ oriented similar to them). This pelvic position actually puts the hamstrings on STRETCH. So, when we stretch our hamstrings, we are stretching something that is already stretched. Of course this doesn’t improve mobility, there’s already too much! So much so, that our bodies limit our ability to explore this mobility in order to protect us. The resolution? Correct pelvic alignment, focus on anterior core exercises (abdominals and obliques) and viola, better mobility!
To sum this up (I know I put a lot of medical jargon in here, sorry), many hamstring flexibility/mobility problems are not actually mobility problems. Rather, they are stability problems and our body is protecting us by stiffening up the hamstrings. Go ahead and try this exercise if you feel you might have “tight” hamstrings resulting from core instability!
Dedicated to optimizing your health,
Dr. J.A. Graves, PT, DPT