Hamstrings: To Stretch or Not To Stretch

Feb 24, 2017

Cassie Hippensteel

by Cassie Hippensteel
PT, DPT | South Gilbert

Picture this: You bend forward to tie your shoes before heading out for your evening run around the block, but feel some resistance from the back of your legs. You’ve noticed this before and it seems to be increasing daily. It’s been about a month since starting this New Year’s resolution and it has helped with your overall mood and energy. However, your hamstrings are starting to feel like they might rip in half next time you bend down.
Your first move is to prop that leg up on a curb and bend down as far as you can until the tight feeling eases.
Ta-da, it worked! You finish your walk and pop your shoes off with no problem…. Until the next day when you find your hamstrings have “tightened” up yet again.
This is a very common scenario, seen daily while providing physical therapy services and, while yes, on occasion the hamstrings are actually tight, most of the time the solution isn’t stretching out the hamstrings at all. Rather, the solution may be to increase flexibility of the muscles in front of the hip and to strengthen the hamstrings in a neutral pelvic position.
With prolonged sitting, such as at a desk or on the couch, the pelvis begins to tip forward into a position called anterior pelvic tilt. In this position, the muscles at the front of the hip, known as hip flexors, will adapt and become shortened and tight perpetuating the anterior pelvic tilt.
Once a person with an anteriorly tipped pelvis and shortened hip flexors stands upright, the hamstrings become overstretched for their given length and a tightening sensation occurs. This is accentuated by bending forward to touch your toes, like pulling on a rubber band.
If you suspect your posterior leg resistance is due to an anterior pelvic tilt, here are a few ways to begin combating it on your own:

  1. Stretch your hip flexors in a neutral pelvic position
  2. Strengthen your hamstrings in neutral pelvic position
  3. Get up and walk every hour, for at least 5 minutes

Don’t hesitate to seek physical therapy services. A qualified physical therapist can determine if your hamstrings are truly tight, or if you are suffering from chronic anterior pelvic tilt and tight hip flexors. They can conduct a thorough postural assessment and give you an individualized stretching and exercise program to help your condition. This pelvis position is not uncommon and, if left untreated, can lead to compounding issues including pain above and below the hips such as back and knee pain.
If you are experiencing posterior leg “tightness,” or feel you could benefit from a postural analysis, request an appointment at your local Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy clinic for physical therapy services.

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