Tight or stiff hamstrings is a common injury I find in my day to day work. Anyone with tight hamstrings can try stretching on a daily basis, but they will find that this has no effect.
The usual way people determine their hamstring flexibility is whether they can bend from the hips and touch their toes. Most professionals will use this in their assessment to get a picture of how the body moves. For those that think that bending by the hips and touching their toes helps the hamstrings, they will find out later in this blog that this isn’t a true representation of hamstring flexibility. This is because far more muscle groups are involved than most think to accomplish this task.
The reason it is beneficial for a professional to observe you touch your toes, is so that they can see exactly how your anterior and posterior chain functions. Simply put, to see how free your spine and hip interact; with this information you can see if the hamstrings relax to a reasonable length.
After we assess the movements of the hip and spine we can then look into the diaphragm, pelvic floor and intercostal muscle, as these too have the ability to impact your toe-touch motion. If there is good motion in the hips, but not much thought the spine, then we expand the assessment to other areas of the body that help forward flexion. It is quite normal to feel very quick changes as a result, which is perceived as hamstring flexibility but actually could be an improvement in the muscles within the posterior chain. Through this, we then begin to see the full range of motion in the hamstring as previous muscles that can inhibit the hamstring flexibility are removed.
If the Spinal movement is good and we can see the hamstring and hip movement is restricted, we will then move onto posterior knee stability.
Posterior knee stability
When you walk or run your hamstrings are used along with your gastrocnemius to stabilise the knee through an isometric contraction. This is to prevent the knee from bending as our foot hits the ground through initial contact. The stiffness in the hamstring is needed to help you absorb the force when the foot hits the ground and ensures the power you are generating in your hips is not wasted, and so, generates forward motion.
If there is no stiffness in the hamstrings and gastrocnemius, then these two muscle groups start to work harder than they need to during low impact work and this then starts to create a feeling of constant tension, with a feeling that it always needs to be stretched.
So, if this is occurring in your hamstrings and you’re trying to stretch, but no matter how long and how many times you do it you feel nothing is working, then most likely it is not your hamstrings at fault. If you treat the symptoms and not the cause, it will be harder for you to reach your desired results.