Why Stretching Alone Won't Fix Your 'Tight' Hamstrings

Do you stretch regularly and still feel like your hamstrings are too tight? The problem might not actually be that your hamstrings are too short. The important distinction we need to make here is between “short” and “tight.” This difference is crucial because treating tight hamstrings with stretching alone is unlikely to help and may even make the problem worse over time.

When something is truly short, like a shirt that shrank in the dryer, stretching can help increase its overall length. However, if your hamstrings are in a tight position for an extended period, they won’t adapt to a new position or activity load immediately. Although you might not be able to touch your toes, your hamstrings are not necessarily too short.

Understanding the root cause of tightness can be complex, but one reason for a muscle to feel tight is that it’s contracting more than it should to protect a joint, nerve, or an injury to the hamstrings themselves or another muscle.

Your nervous system is highly skilled at protecting different structures in your body. It can signal a muscle to contract to achieve this. For example, after a whiplash injury, all the muscles in your neck and back might tighten up and go into spasm to protect your spinal cord. The same can happen on a smaller scale to protect peripheral nerves, such as your sciatic nerve. Your hamstrings also help stabilize your pelvis, so an unstable joint in your low back or hips can cause them to increase their resting tension. If you habitually shift your weight too far forward, they’ll also turn on more when you bend forward to prevent you from falling on your head.

In these situations, stretching might provide a short-term sense of flexibility, but your hamstrings will likely revert back to their tight state soon after. This cycle can leave you feeling frustrated, but you don’t have to endure it. If you’re struggling with tight hamstrings that don’t seem to improve with stretching, visit us at Dragonfly. We can help you figure out the root cause of your tightness and provide treatment that will address it.