If you have Legs, You Probably Have Tight Hamstrings

ESPN highlights the few injuries keeping several competitors from performing at their best, we as amateur athletes and weekend warriors can identify with their injuries. Most of us have never felt the pain and frustration from withdrawing from the race of our life, but anyone who kicked a ball a little too hard, or landed unevenly can attest to the searing pain of a muscle injury.

Hamstrings, the major muscle group in the back of our thighs, are commonly injured. The hamstrings are made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles. These muscles start at the bottom of our pelvic bone, called the ischium. (When seated on a hard chair or the floor, you can often feel these bony prominences). The muscles attach at the back of the shin bone, behind the knee. The hamstrings collectively extend our thigh and flex our knee. Because it crosses two joints, it is more prone to injury. It is also one of the major muscle groups of the body, which means it is used for more movements than you might realize.

In sports, the most commonly injured structures are the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Tendons attach muscle to bone. Ligaments attach bone to bone. A muscle strain occurs when minor tears develop in the fibers from overexertion. Strains can range from mild (just a few fibers affected) to severe (a tear through the full thickness of the tissue). Most injures heal within a few days to a week, more severe injuries can cause symptoms up to a month.

After injury, RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is the first choice of treatment. The best choice for prevention, however, is conditioning the muscle from the start.

To stretch your hamstrings, put the heel of one leg on a step. Your standing leg should be straight. Your hips should be centered and squared. Lean forward from the hip, not the waist. You should feel a gentle tug in the back of your thigh. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Downward Dog, a very common yoga pose, is also great to lengthen your hamstrings.


A great yoga pose to stretch out those hammies!

To strengthen your hamstrings, air squats are beneficial for a warm up. Start from a standing position, squat while striving to achieve 90 degrees of knee flexion, and return to standing. No weight is necessary A great rehab exercise is single leg lifts for the hamstring. The exercise builds the muscle in an eccentric motion. This means the benefit comes from lengthening the muscle. Start in the standing position. Keep a weight in one hand (start with a 5 pound dumbbell, more advanced can try a small kettlebell).  Keep one leg planted. Lean forward at the hip, lifting the opposite leg straight behind you. Goal is to have your legs make a 90 degree angle. Return to starting position. Start with a set of 10. Switch sides. Walking lunges are fantastic too. Start with 10 down, and 10 back. More advanced can carry dumbells or kettlebells in either hand.

If any of the exercises hurt, stop immediately and consult your doctor. An experienced doctor with a sports background will be able to correct any of the factors that may dispose a person to injury.