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Are you Hamstrung?

Originally posted on July 7, 2010

By Jane Milliff

Yesterday, waiting in line at the Verizon store, I saw a guy bend over and groan as he stretched his low back and hamstrings. He must have repeated the maneuver 5 times as we waited for service. Wouldn’t you love to have the panache to do that? But the real question: would it do any good?

Lots of us walk around with tight hamstrings, but the truth is, you could stretch all day and still wake up the next morning with tight hammies. You know why? Because, you guessed it, the hamstrings are not the problem.

Hamstring injuries plague many of us. You think it’s over, and then bam, like a bad dream, hamstring tightness and pain recurs at the most inopportune time. Many sports physicians will tell you that a hamstring injury can be a career-ending event for a professional athlete. And for the rest of us, it can mean an end to jogging or soccer, or even sitting through a movie comfortably.

After years of treating problems like this, two scenarios show up over and over:

Scenario #1: It’s your back. A lower back injury is in your past. It resolved on it’s own, but you notice you’ve lost some flexibility. Your hamstrings, in particular, are tight.

Stretching never seems to help. Before you do more stretching, try this: Strengthen your core and lower back muscles. Following injury, your lower back muscles do not return to their normal strength and endurance without sufficient retraining. When the stabilizers are weak, your hamstrings tighten to increase stability. If you don’t know how to strengthen your core, consider a rehab Pilates class at ALTA. Attention to muscle firing patterns is a vital part of your solution.

Scenario #2: A nerve is the culprit.. A quick move, or a change in direction, and ouch, you’ve torn your hamstring. Bruising is especially indicative of a tear. The muscle tissue and surrounding structures (like nerves) become inflamed. Inflammation leads to scarring. As you stretch the hamstring, because the nerve in the thigh is now bound down, it’s re-aggravated every time. Try to stretch a nerve the way you do muscle, and the nerve always wins. It becomes more aggravated, and you get more sore and stiff. When a nerve is the culprit, neurodynamics is part of your solution.

With any longstanding hamstring problem, detective work pays off. At ALTA, a solution is waiting for you.


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