It’s a common misconception that tight hamstrings are the reason some people can’t touch their toes. But the anatomy of the hamstring is such that in some cases, a short muscle can sometimes be mistaken for one that is tight. There are a few reasons for shortening of the muscle fibers, including lack of movement (too much sitting) or immobilization, which is often seen in people who make a point of being non-weight bearing on on side after an injury.
The Real Cause of Tight Hamstrings
True tightness in the hamstring is usually related to the neuromusculoskeletal system. When your brain detects instability somewhere in your body, it sends a message via the nervous system to increase tone in your hamstrings. This is a natural protective measure, but it’s not common to feel like the muscles need to be stretched, even though the tightness is a response to a need for stability.
Tight hamstrings can cause rotation in the pelvis and hips, which causes unnatural flattening in the low back – often the root of chronic low back pain. Poor posture is also related to tight hamstrings.
Testing for Flexibility
Try this simple test to check the flexibility of your hamstrings.
- Begin on your back with one leg extended straight on the ground.
- Bend the opposite your knee to a 90 degree angle with the foot relaxed.
- Slowly extend the leg of the bent knee. It should extend completely, or reach about 10 degrees shy of extension. Normal hamstring flexibility at the knee joint is 170 to 180 degrees.
If your test comes out positive, try gently stretching the hamstring using a towel or yoga strap around the foot. Start with a bent knee, straightening and bending a few times, and holding for no more than 15 to 30 seconds. Then repeat the test steps. Effectively stretching your hamstrings can help with injury prevention.
Questions about tight hamstrings or other health and fitness questions? Contact us today!