Cut It Out: Hamstring Stretches!

By Dr. Justin Sullivan

It’s got to be the most common stretch of all time…and potentially the most worthless.

“…but my hamstrings are always so tight!”

 

First, let’s explore why most people have tightness in the back of their thighs.  In my experience it usually involves poor mobility of your Sciatic Nerve.  This thick nerve runs down the back of your leg and is most known for the symptoms of ‘Sciatica’, where it gets squished, pulled or trapped by some other structure. When you sit a lot (most of us), the soft tissues get mashed together and lose their ability to slide and glide on one another (mobility).  If the nerve gets stuck and can’t slide with the movements of your joints, it gives the nerve a pull.

Nerves don’t like to be stretched, because too much pulling can damage them.  So, your brain will protect a nerve from being stretched by tightening the tissues around it and limiting your movement…which gives you that tight feeling.  Want to know if it’s your nerve you’re feeling?  Bring your chin to your chest, then back up while you’re in a stretch…if the intensity changes, it’s the nerves you’re pulling on!

“Stretching can’t be bad, right?”

 

How do prolonged stretches actually work?  After about 30 seconds or so, the muscle is forced to relax, allowing it to lengthen.  So, by holding those Hamstring stretches, you are actually turning off the Brain’s way of protecting the Sciatic nerve!  So, yes…stretching can be bad.  We have had far too many cases of clients with back pain or Sciatica that come to see us because their therapist or trainer kept making their pain much worse.  The most common reason: they were yanking on nerves.

 

PRO-TIP:

Work on the mobility of your soft tissues.  Self-massage using your fist or a tool can help separate the layers of tissues, regaining that much-needed slide and glide…just go easy on yourself.😉