Why your hamstrings are tight and why stretching won’t change that.

By November 25, 2013Rehabilitation, Training

We take a look at why your hamstrings are tight and a different way to think about the problem.

I remember speaking to a well known physiotherapist some years ago regarding a client of mine whose hamstrings were the tightest of any man alive (and probably tighter than a few that were no longer with us). This despite me employing every conceivable stretching technique on him at least 3 times a week for over a year.


Is more stretching the answer?

The physiotherapists’ advice was to stretch him more, ‘5 times day should help’. That was never going to happen and it didn’t seem to make any sense to me.

If something is not working, doing it more is rarely the answer. 

What does tightness represent?

I’ve discussed here what tightness in the muscular system actually represents. So if the tightness is deliberate, attempting to override your central nervous system is both unwise and probably futile. No doubt you will have experienced the temporary gains in range of movement that stretching produces, only to discover that they are lost shortly after.

So what can you do?

The hamstrings are responsible for controlling motion both at the knee and hip. This is why they have a greater perpensity to tighten as they are looking after the stability of both joints. Please see this article for 10 possible causes. It is therefore difficult to recommend a particular course of action without assessing you directly.

Think about the problem differently.

I think the following example however, may give you some understanding of why the thing that feels tight is not necessarily the problem.

My client came into the clinic complaining that he had tightness in the area of his right hamstring. On assessing him I noticed that he was very limited in knee flexion (he couldn’t bend his right knee as far as his left knee).

When I started checking through all his knee flexors on that right side using Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) I found that most of his knee flexors were weak.

In fact the only knee flexor that was contracting well was the one that felt tight. 

Once those weak muscles had been treated the knee flexion range improved and the tight sensation disappeared.

What can we learn from this? 

The thing that feels tight is not usually the problem but rather a solution to the problem. Stretching or massaging the symptom won’t usually provide a lasting solution to the cause. In fact in the case above it would have been entirely counterproductive. Stretching the last working knee flexor would not have helped this gentleman at all.

If you have been stretching your hamstrings for some time and they are still tight, perhaps it’s time to think why this may be and try something new?

Either that or start clearing your schedule so can stretch them 5 times a day.