Do you have tight hamstrings? For many of us, muscles along the back of the thigh can be a frustratingly tight muscle. Othertimes, the hamstrings tend to cramp up whenever we try to strengthen them.  

 

Hamstring Anatomy- Where is Your Hamstring

hamstring muscles

 

To create flexible and strong hamstrings, it is important to remember where they are and what they do. Your medial (inner) and lateral (outer) hamstring muscles originate on your ischial tuberosity at the back of the pelvis and extend down the back of your thigh to attach to the top of your calf. They function as a muscle that bends your knee as well as a muscle that can pull your hip backwards. They act to stabilize your knee and control hip & knee movements when walking, standing & running.  Photo source.

 

 

sciatic nerve mobilityBetween the medial & lateral hamstring, your sciatic nerve runs from your pelvis to your lower leg. The sciatic nerve can be a vulnerable or sensitive structure for a lot of people. Oftentimes the body will tighten the hamstrings to guard the sciatic nerve because your brain's afraid of letting that nerve move. If we are to get your hamstrings loose & flexible, we also want to consider your sciatic nerve mobility. Photo source

 

 

 

muscle structure***A note about muscle anatomy, for all muscles the individual muscle fibers are comprised of a sequence of overlapping proteins called actin and myosin. These are arranged in a train-car pattern. When a muscle fiber contracts, the amount of overlap of these proteins changes. When the proteins overlap more, it is termed a concentric muscle contraction. If the proteins that build the muscle fiber slide apart while the muscle is contracting, it is an eccentric muscle contraction. Eccentric strengthening exercises actually add more segments, or ‘train-cars’ to the muscle! This makes the muscle physically longer. Photo source

 

 

 

Keys to Hamstring Strengthening 

When it comes to strengthening your hamstrings, a lot of the time people are doing primarily concentric strengthening, which is where the proteins in the muscle fibers are moving from their neutral position into a more overlapped position. This gets the muscle very strong & efficient in a shortened position but not strong in a lengthened area. This can tend to make the hamstring muscle feel tighter. 

To develop healthy hamstrings, you want to do a mix of concentric (shortening) as well as eccentric (lengthening) strengthening to get the muscle fibers strong & good at contracting quickly, but also strong at being stretched and working at the same time.  

How To Stretch Your Hamstrings

In your course of Physical Therapy at Creekside, we will assess and help you find the best hamstring exercises to meet your goals. We will also guide you in finding the right intensity and volume. In general though, the below exercises are a good place to start. 

  • Quick curls with a slow straightening of the knee is a straightforward place to start.  

  • Heel slide or eccentric bridges. You go up into a normal bridge and then slide your heels out away from your hips. This is a great way to get the hamstring muscle firing but the fibers sliding apart.  

  • Eccentric deadlift variations are also great options. Conventional deadlifts with slow lowering to the floor. Single leg RDLs and walking ‘ Death Marches’ are fantastic at isolating the hamstrings on a single leg.   

If the muscle is the culprit behind your tight or irritable hamstrings, strengthening it in a more stretched position can be a real game-changer in improving hamstring tightness and strength.  

 

Leg Nerve Mobility

When back of the thigh (sciatic) nerve isn't wanting to move, the focus in exercises need to shift. If this is the case, you will want to do a bunch of nerve gliding or flossing exercises to get your body comfortable with the sciatic nerve moving inside the mass of the hamstring.  

Flossing or gliding the sciatic nerve involves stretching top half of the nerve chain while relaxing the bottom half. Then you will invert the halves of the nerve that you are stretching and stretch the bottom half while relaxing the top. The sciatic nerve flossing can be done in sitting, laying down, standing, sitting. I like to incorporate slumping the body in the upper back and low back forward, and then stretching your hamstring and curls up to get a nice stretch all along the bottom of the foot. 

There's tons of great variations to sciatic nerve mobility exercises, but here is one of my favorites.

 

 

 

Summary 

To fix your tight hamstrings, we want to make sure you're strengthening them in a concentric or shortening way as well as an eccentric or stretching way. We need to get them nice and strong in a stretched position, as well as in a short position.  

We also want to make sure that the nerve fibers in your sciatic nerve are moving well through the hamstring group and your body's comfortable with them moving. Nerve flossing and glide exercises are a good way to start with this. is a great way of getting that moving better. 

 

Here at Creekside Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation we’re here to help you move at your best! Give us a call at 503-300-0690 or shoot us a message to get your hamstrings stronger and more flexible! 

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