By Sara Stevens
Ever started to do wishbone kicks or climb some stairs only to suddenly find yourself clutching the back of your thigh and wondering what the heck you did to make that so sore?
Of all the muscle groups, hamstrings are probably the most familiar to someone who doesn’t work with, look at or think about bodies on a regular basis, either because a good sweat session left them nice and sore, or maybe because someone told you that your hamstrings are to blame for your sore low back. Whether you know them or not, your hamstrings could probably use some activation, some Range of Motion, or maybe both.
Location Hamstrings are a group of three large muscles that live on the back of our legs. All three start at the Ischial tuberosity (sits bone), and run down the back of the leg to insert at the back of the lower leg bones (tibia and fibula).
What do they do? The hamstrings are responsible for flexing the knee (bringing your heel toward your butt), extending the hip (pulling the entire leg back), assisting with rotation of the hip (both internal and external), and tilting the pelvis back (tucking the tailbone under).
When do we use them? Hamstrings are used when we come into “cat” position for cats and dogs (tucking the tailbone), when we swing our leg back to kick a ball, when we walk, run, or climb stairs, and when we do shoulder bridges, lunges, or squats.
What happens when we don’t use them? Hamstrings are some of the first felt victims of long, repeated periods of sitting. When hamstrings aren’t being used, they get stuck to each other, to our IT bands, and to our inner thigh muscles. This can limit their range of motion and reduce their ability to operate as efficiently as they should.
Sitting for long periods also means that those hamstrings are getting stuck in a shortened position, either due to the position the pelvis is in, the bent position the knees are in, or both. Again, this limits the range of motion of the hamstrings and their ability to operate as they should. Because the hamstrings can’t move the knees or hips as they should, other muscles will take over to try and help, creating pulling forces on the joints that pulls them out of balance. This can create pain in the knees or low back, contribute to the development of osteoarthritis as we age, and set us up for injury when we head out the door for an evening run after work or a hike on the weekend.
Hamstrings are part of a group of muscles known as the Posterior Chain. The posterior chain is a group of muscles on the back of the body that share a connection that runs from the bottom of the toes to the top of the eyebrows. That means there may be a connection between your tight hamstrings and your plantar fasciitis, or your tension headaches.
How to relieve them A great way to reduce tension in the hamstrings and potentially relieve pain in the low back, feet or neck and head, is to do wishbone kicks, a wide shoulder bridge, cats and dogs or downward dog squats, spread foot glides and lunges. Try this sequence if you’re somewhere you can get on the floor: Wishbone kicks x17 (each leg); Wide shoulder bridge x30 seconds; Cats & Dogs x10. If you can’t get on the floor: Knee to chest x17 each leg; Static lunges x10 each leg; Spread foot glides x17 each leg.
Massage Therapist and Trainer Sara Stevens walks you through a new muscle each month, highlighting everything from what the muscle does to how to relieve tension in that muscle and how we use that muscle in Spears Strong workouts. Want to learn more? Come to Sara's Strength & Flexibility and Relax & Restore workouts where she'll teach you all about the muscles.