STOP stretching your hamstrings and do THIS instead

We’ve all done it in some variation or all variations, the hamstring stretch. Some of us has done it sitting up or with our leg up against the wall or worse we have had someone else try to stretch our hamstring for us. Stretching the hamstrings is one of the more popular stretches and the truth is feeling pain in the hamstring is not uncommon. And when we feel pain in the hamstrings one of the more popular suggestions, is to simply stretch the hamstrings.

Stretching the hamstrings is NOT something you should do and even when you feel pain, while it is the first thing you will consider it is the last thing you should do. You can actually cause yourself more pain if you stretch your hamstring when you are in pain. Depending on the reason for it being sore or ‘tight’, stretching it can cause more damage to the muscle.

Most people like to use the phrase, ‘my hamstrings are tight’. This is most likely how they feel or what you have been told or what you have googled. And the intuitive thing to do when something is tight is to stretch it. But when you have a tight muscle it means that the muscle is weak. And the muscle needs to be strengthened not stretched. While strengthening doesn’t sound like something that you want to do when you have a sore hamstring, it is what is needed.

The first thing you should do when you have hamstring pain or tightness is foam roll the hamstring. You should start on a foam roller with spikes. Rolling out on a flat foam roller will not be effective as it won’t be ab able to get into the hamstring to break up the knots.

Start by sitting on the foam roller and start at the base of the glutes and then roll all the way down the back of the legs until the back of the knee. You want to stop on any sore parts, which are the knots or trigger points. Only spend a few seconds on each knot and don’t try to get them all out on one try.  It will take weeks to get all the knots out. It will be sore and uncomfortable but it will help break up the knots and free up the tightness feeling.

If you don’t feel any tender points as you are rolling over the hamstring then you can take one leg and cross it over the other to put more pressure on the hamstring. This is where having the spikes on the roller is imperative to be able to get into the muscle and break up the knots. The popular stick that is found in most running stores, is not the same as foam rolling. You need something with ridges or bumps to get the knots out.

Why doesn’t stretching get the knots out? Think of it as tying a knot in a piece of string. When you stretch it, you are pulling at the end of the string, you will not pull out the knot, you will wind up tearing the ends of the muscle and not affecting the knot.  Rolling will break up the knot and allow the muscle to return to normal length so it will no longer feel tight.

Then you want to start strengthening. You want to take it slow and not feel pain. The exercises you should do is without weight.  You want to start with bridging.  Bend your knees up and plant both feet on the floor. Slow and controlled push your butt off the table.  Push it up as high as it will go and then slowly lower it back down. Try not to rest it all the way down just lightly touch the table. Put your weight through your heels and even lift up your toes to make sure that you are putting most of the weight through your heels.

To make that harder you can lift one leg off the ground and keep lifting your butt up and down. You want to make sure that your hip doesn’t drop when you lift the leg off the ground. Do about 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

To make it harder from there you can go into the previous single leg bridge and hold it and then lift and lower your leg while you butt is still lifted off the table. Be sure to watch the video for examples of all of these.

If you or someone you know is suffering from hamstring or knee or hip pain and wants a FREE consultation with a doctor of physical therapy click here or call our office at 215-997-9898.


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