My Hamstrings are Always Tight!

Do you stretch regularly and still feel like your hamstrings are too tight? It might be a big shift in your way of thinking, but most people do not actually have short hamstrings. The most important distinction that we need to make here is “short” versus “tight.” It might seem like I am saying this to make the point that you are using the wrong terminology, but it is more about how you actually treat the problem you are are experiencing. If you try to use stretches to improve hamstrings that are “tight”, they are not likely to change or even could get worse over time. Let’s start by clearing up what I mean by “short” versus “tight”.

When something is actually too short, or small, we can use stretching to increase the overall length. Think of your favorite cotton shirt that got shrunk in the dryer. It used to fit perfectly! Similarly, if your hamstrings are positioned in a short position for a prolonged period of time they do not quickly adapt to a new position or activity load. The treatment for your favorite shirt is either to get a new one or gradually stretch it back out. When your hamstrings are tight, you can’t just go out and buy a new set. Therefore, you need to slowly stretch them back out. Despite the fact that you can’t reach your toes, they are not too short.

Unfortunately, getting to the root cause can be complex, but for the purpose of this blog post, we will keep it simple. A muscle that is the perfect length can still feel tight because it is in a state where it is contracting more than it should be. A few (of many) reasons are to protect a joint, nerve, or an injury to the hamstrings themselves or another muscle.

Your nervous system is very adept at protecting different structures in your body. It will accomplish this through various means, one of which being to signal a muscle to contract. Anyone who has had a whiplash injury can attest to the fact that all the muscles in your neck and/or back tighten up and go into a spasm. This is done to protect your spinal cord, which your brain and nervous system are very quick to protect at all costs. The same thing can happen at a lesser scale to protect peripheral nerves like your sciatic nerve. Your hamstrings also act to stabilize your pelvis. So a joint that is not stable enough in your low back or hips can cause them to guard by increasing their resting tension. If you are always shifting your weight too far forward by nature of a postural habit, they will turn on more when you bend forward to prevent you from falling on your head! These are just a few examples of underlying faults that can be causing you to feel like you have short hamstrings, when they are really just trying to help you out by tightening up! In any of these situations, when you are stretching, you might gain some sense of flexibility for a short period of time, but very shortly, they will revert back to the same tight state as before. This continuous cycle leaves many people feeling frustrated, but you don’t have to be one of them. If you have been plagued by tight hamstrings that never improve with stretching, come see us at Dragonfly so we can help you figure out why!