Hello and welcome to May’s Muscle of the Month! It’s warm and wonderful outside. Running, hiking, and walking in the beautiful weather is a welcome change from those dark winter months that never seemed to end. So while you’re out there, don’t forget to stretch – especially your hamstrings.
What’s a hamstring?
“Hamstrings” is a term most people use to refer to the muscles on the backs of their legs, but there are three separate muscles in that area: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. All three muscles bend the knee and extend the hip because all three muscles cross the hip and knee joints (apart from the short head of the biceps femoris which only bends the knee because it only crosses the knee joint).
How to locate the hamstrings:
The hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and long head of the biceps femoris) start on your sits bones (ischial tuberosities) and go down the leg to the back of the knee. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus on the inside of your thigh, and the biceps femoris on the outside of your thigh. If you bend your knee, you can feel strong tendons right above your knee where your hamstrings end.
What do the hamstrings do?:
Bending the knee and extending the hip are key motions in running, walking, climbing and virtually all other forms of locomotion. Winding up for a kick or jump will also engage the hamstrings.
Common pains and problems with hamstrings:
When your hamstring is cramped, torn, painful or “acting up,” you feel it. It’s a very big group of muscles. We’ve all had those moments when we spend the better part of a day with a leg up on a table stretching our poor, neglected hamstrings. But even when you’re not in pain, hamstring tightness is huge in limiting flexibility of the spine and legs. Not being able to touch your toes may not seem like a big deal, but that lack of motion directly effects your low back. Chronically tight hamstrings can flatten the lower back, causing your spine to lose some very important curves. Lack of movement can lead to pain, chronic tightness, bad posture, arthritis, and subluxation. Trigger points can refer pain over a large part of the back of the thigh.
How to stretch the hamstrings:
Because it’s used nearly all the time that we are moving, the hamstrings need their own dose of TLC and stretching. Stretching the hamstring is easy because it’s such a big muscle. Start by standing. Walk your left foot out about two feet. Straighten your left knee and push your hips back. You should feel a deep stretch in the back of your left leg. Be careful not to put your hands over your left knee. You can put your hands on your thigh or your calf, but never apply pressure on an extended joint as it can cause damage to that joint. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and switch legs. Repeat three times for a thorough stretch.
Injuries to the hamstrings can be relieved with active release technique, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, physical therapy, and other bodywork techniques. For increased flexibility of the hamstrings try Yoga, Tai Chi, Karate or other martial arts.
Be sure to visit Performance Sports and Wellness for a full evaluation of your hamstring pain or tightness and to ask any questions you may have.
Don’t have any hamstring pain to complain of? Great! Send this article to someone you know who does.
About Dr. Swann: Dr. Casey Swann graduated from Southern California University of Health Sciences with her Doctorate of Chiropractic in spring 2012. She is full body certified in Active Release Technique and holds certifications in Graston Technique, Cox Technique and Kinesiotaping. She practices at Performance Sports and Wellness with Dr. David Ness in New Paltz & Poughkeepsie.
picture 1: www.athleticquickness.com
picture 2: www.triggerpoints.net
picture 3: www.teachpe.com