Tight or stiff hamstring muscles are a common problem, and a majority of the times, is usually not a cause for concern. However, they do have the tendency to lead to severe strains or other problems like back pain and should be taken care of immediately.
Tight hamstrings also increase the risk for injury along with affecting an athlete’s performance in sports. If a sportsperson will force the muscle to perform more than its limited capacity, then the risk of a muscle tear increases. The hamstring muscle group comprises of 3 muscles namely the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris muscles.
Tight hamstrings can cause the pelvis and the hips to tilt backwards leading to flattening of the lower back resulting in back problems. Tight hamstrings pull the pelvis out of its normal position and can also cause postural problems, sacroiliac joint pain etc.
Treatment comprises of R.I.C.E. therapy, moist heat, stretching and sports massage for hamstring muscles. This will reduce the risk of injury and also improve the performance of an athlete.
Causes Of Tight Hamstrings
- There are different causes for tight hamstrings. Some people are born with short hamstrings, whereas some are suppler than others, especially women and children.
- Not warming up or stretching properly before participating in sports activities also causes the hamstrings to tighten up.
- It is also important to stretch after a workout, as muscles are more amenable to stretching as they are warm after a workout.
- If a person has lower back issues, then it puts pressure on the sciatic nerve resulting in tightened muscles.
- Hamstring muscles are said to be tight when a person is not able to raise the leg off the floor by more than 80 degrees when lying flat on the back.
- Patient experiences soreness in the posterior region of thigh.
- Patient can also have difficulty with leg movement.
- Patient can experience sharp pains in the affected region.
Treatment For Tight Hamstrings
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation) technique should be adopted.
- Compression with the help of a bandage helps in alleviating the pain, if any.
- Ice therapy for at least 20 minutes should be done multiple times a day. This will help in reducing swelling as well as pain.
- Keeping the affected leg elevated also helps in reducing the swelling.
- Rest is very important in order to heal the sore, strained and tight hamstrings.
- Applying moist heat also helps in loosening the tight hamstring muscles.
- Stretching and massage should also be done to avoid and to relieve tight hamstrings.
Stretches To Loosen Stiff Hamstring Muscles
Different stretching exercises include static stretching, dynamic stretching, passive stretching, CRAC and PNF. Sports massage also help in loosening the tight hamstrings.
Seated Static Stretching Exercise To Loosen the Stiff Hamstring Muscles
- Sit down on the floor with the affected leg extended out in front.
- Keep the other leg flexed.
- Rotate the extended leg inwards and lean forwards at the hips.
- You can feel a stretch below the thigh.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat the stretch for a minimum of 5 times throughout the day.
- This stretch can also be done with the foot rotated outwards.
Standing Hamstring Stretch To Loosen The Tight Hamstring
- Stand straight with the affected leg in front of the other leg.
- Flex knee on the backward leg and bend forwards at the hips.
- Keep your hands on the flexed leg’s thigh in order to maintain your balance. You can feel a stretch.
- If you do not feel a stretch, tilt your pelvis forwards or lean forwards.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat this stretch throughout the day.
Dynamic Stretching Exercise To Loosen the Stiff Hamstring Muscles
- Stand straight.
- Gently swing your leg forwards and backwards and gradually increase the height of the swing.
- Do around 10 to 14 swings on both the legs.
- Dynamic stretching can be done early in the mornings; however, do not force the stretch.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) To Loosen the Stiff Hamstring Muscles
These are a set of stretching techniques and one of the types is known as CRAC stretching which means Contract, Relax, Agonist, Contract. This stretching is done as follows:
- First a gentle warm up is needed. Lie on your back and push a straight leg against light resistance for about 20 times.
- Then get a partner to gently lift one leg as far as it would go.
- Contract the leg by Pushing against resistance while keeping the leg straight.
- The resistance should be such that the leg cannot move.
- Hold this position for 10 seconds and then relax.
- Repeat this 4 to 5 times a day.
Stretching Program For Loosening The Tight Hamstrings
- Start with dynamic stretching in the morning and it should be done as part of a warm-up process before the other stretches.
- Next follow it with static stretching. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 4 to 5 times around 3 to 5 times in a day.
- PNF/CRAC stretching can be done on a daily basis, but should not be overdone as you could tire the muscle. Thrice a week is also okay.
- If the problem persists with tight hamstrings, particularly if it is one sided, then you may be suffering from piriformis syndrome or restricted nerves in the back.
Massage For Tight Hamstrings
Other than stretching exercises, massage also helps with tight hamstrings by stretching the muscles transversely or sideways; and this cannot be done with stretching exercises. Massage also helps by increasing the blood circulation and helps with relaxing the muscles, thus making them more amenable to stretching. If the patient has adhesions and scar tissue, then they can be broken down by doing deep massage.