How many times have we heard people say “I have tight hamstrings”? The hamstrings are probably the most overstretched muscle that I can think of! If you go to see a health professional you always seem to walk away with hamstring stretches, no matter what you went in there for.
Why do we get tight hamstrings? Well, we all know that our seated position isn’t ideal when it comes to maintaining good “posture” etc, and probably has a lot to answer for, but can’t be blamed for everything. Recently it was announced that “Sitting is the new smoking”, this is unfortunately un-true. Sitting provides recovery and is a very natural thing to do, however not for 8-16 hours as some do during a working day. The key is how long we sit for.
Our lifestyles are polluting functional movement
But this doesn’t answer the reason as to why we get tight hamstrings. The word we use as Biomechanics Coaches is ‘spasm’. Now, this isn’t the kind of spasm that is sharp and painful, like when you bend over and BAM you feel a pain, this is more of a protective gradual build up that you may not even feel.
There is one problem with the fitness and therapy industries, we just don’t take into account the importance of nerves! What is pain? I’ve often been told “ooo it’s definitely more of a muscular pain!” this just isn’t possible! What sends the signal to the brain saying that it is pain?… Nerves, so this means that all pain is nerve pain.
The body will always protect nerves over anything, it would rather tear a muscle off the bone than risk injuring a nerve! Which brings me neatly onto the hamstrings, there is a major nerve running down the back of the leg called the sciatic nerve. This nerve supplies most of the lower leg with messages from the brain and visa versa, because the nervous system is all one length the best way to tighten the sciatic nerve is to slump forward and flex the hip with an extended knee. This crops up a lot in sport, athletics, football, martial arts, rugby and the list goes on!
Basically its any movement that puts the hamstrings
on a stretch also tightens up the sciatic nerve!
That is the key, the answer to why the hamstrings may be in spasm… If the sciatic nerve was to go through an abnormal range for that person then the hamstrings would spasm up to protect it, the only problem with spasm is that once it starts it stays!! The other problem with spasm is that it can’t contract or relax and hates been worked or stretched, so we go to that PT who isn’t aware of these problems and hey presto your problems could get worse.
We need to mobilise the nerve to give the body the confidence to relax the hamstrings, if you can teach it that range is safe and the nerves aren’t going to be harmed then the range will come and with it the entire body will be able to function better because the nerves are one big continuation, they effect each other and the muscles they supply, help at one end and the other end may function better as well.
A simple test to see if it is tight hamstrings or if it is nerve tension:
- Lie down flat onto your back.
- Keeping your head down and arms by your side, lift a leg as straight as you can into the air.
- As soon as you feel any tension, tingling or tightness stop, this is your full range.
- If you’re feeling it in the calf, foot, toes, side of the hip then that is now a nerve stretch and you should stop the test!
- If your feeling it in the hamstring, back of the knee or middle of the buttock keeping both hips flat on the floor VERY SLOWLY move the extended leg over to the opposite side, being careful not to drop the leg down or bring it up higher, must stay at the same height.
- If the feeling changes at all aka increases, decreases, moves, goes hot, goes cold or changes in any way then this is a nerve stretch and you should stop the test.
- The leg should be able to get inline with the outside of the opposite leg, if this is achieved without any change to the sensation this means that it is a muscular tension and stretching may be good for you! If the sensation changed before you got to the other side then this is a nerve trying to stop you going any further and you need to mobilise this before you do any stretching!!
Please get in touch to find out more.