Hamstring Stretches For Lower Back Pain
Even though they have a funny name, the hamstrings (hams) are a neglected group of muscles in our industrialized society. The increased sedentariness of most every aspect of life takes a toll on your body as a whole and these muscles in particular.
Because most of us sit for long periods during our waking hours, the hamstrings, for the most part, are dormant. This means that they’re just figuratively sitting around eating donuts and getting lazy. Because of this, they don’t get much action and so, when you need them to go to work, you feel the weakness and restriction right away.
A muscle that’s not moving isn’t a happy muscle. Why, you ask? Because muscles are made to move. That’s what they do. Humans are made to move. That’s what we do.
When we don’t move… When our muscles don’t move. We get weak. We have aches and pains. We put on weight. And a whole cascade (I love that term) of problems begin.
But, not to get ahead of myself. Let’s see what sitting down all day can do to your hamstrings.
What the muscle does
The primary actions of this group of muscles is to extend your hip and also bend your knees. Hip extension takes place when you forcefully push down or back with your foot.
Think about when you’re climbing a flight of stairs, when you’re running across the street, or simply getting up from a chair. It’s the action of your leg moving backwards and to the rear.
The knee pending part goes without saying but you may not understand how many times you need to forcefully bend your knee to do just simple tasks. Going back to the stair climbing example, the hamstrings have to keep the knee bent when climbing stairs because who can climb stairs with a straight leg, right?
But, that’s not all.
The hams provide major support to your lower back. Yep, that’s right. The hamstrings help your hip and lower back muscles keep you upright while you’re moving around doing things like carrying the groceries, reaching down to pick up the newspaper from the front porch, even reach that box of Christmas ornaments on the top shelf in the garage.
They help your back support added weight while going through your daily routine. So, it’s a good thing if they’re working properly.
Anatomy of hamstrings region
There are 3 hamstring muscles that run down the back of your leg. They start at a bone located near the gluteal fold where the roundness of your hip meets the top of your thigh. Yoga people call it your Sits bone because it’s the bone that you sit on.
Then they continue down the leg and attach along either side of your knee joint. Two of these muscles attach just under the inside side of the knee and one more attaches along the outside side of the knee.
How it gets tight
The hams get stretched when the leg is straight. They really get stretched when you’re bending forward with a straight leg, like when you’re tying your shoe from a standing position.
What tightens the hamstrings up is sitting down all day at a desk, in a car or somewhere else.
The thing about modern society is that, for the most part, we’re sitting most of our day. Whether you’re at a desk or whether you commuting to work, or even if you’re at home just watching TV, you’re sitting with the knees usually bent.
Because you’re in the sitting position for long periods at a time, the hamstrings (and other muscles and tissues) tend to shorten up because that’s the limit to the demand being placed on them.
Sure, you may get up to go to the bathroom or something, but, after 10 minutes or so of short distance walking, it’s back to sitting for a lot longer than 10 minutes.
Problems caused by tight hamstrings
And, all this sitting will lead to problems. Problems moving around. Problems with aches and pain. And, problems around your waistline if you know what I mean.
But, let’s get specific.
From what you have learned so far in this article is that the hamstrings help you walk, they support your lower back, especially when you’re carrying heavy loads. They help you easily bend forward when you’re going to pick something up from the floor. And the hams also help you go up and down stairs, hills, inclines.
So, if the hamstrings are tight and not functioning efficiently, then you’re going to have trouble doing all those things mentioned above.
But what’s more, if your hamstrings are tight and weak, then when faced with a simple task, your body will try and recruit other muscles and tissues to do the work that the hamstrings are unable to do (this happens with any muscle group).
For instance, if you have to bend over to pick something up from the floor and the burden of this task is shared equally by your hams, hip muscles and lower back muscles. But sitting for long periods of time have made your hams short and they’re only working at 50% capacity, then to complete that motion or task, your body will have to add work to your hip and lower back muscles. They will have to stretch more and work harder because your hams are only at 50%.
The problem is this: This isn’t what those other muscles are supposed to be doing. And this is how you potentially end up with a muscle strain (or worse). And if this kind of stuff keeps happening, then you really run the risk of getting seriously injured.
How to stretch the hamstrings
So, if you have the type of job or lifestyle that keeps you in a sitting position for long periods of the day, one thing that can help you avoid getting back pain is regularly stretching your hamstrings.
There are several ways to do this, but the common movement is moving your straightened leg (one at a time please) toward your chest. You could do this in sitting, standing or lying down.
It’s important to understand that you’re moving your chest toward your knee (or vice versa) and not moving your nose toward your knee. When you emphasize moving your nose, you have to work harder and you could injure your lower back if it’s already in a weakened state.
There are several examples of a hamstring stretch at the bottom of the article. Make sure to consult your doctor before you start any exercise program. (It’s just a safety precaution).