What do the hamstrings do?
We need balanced, flexible and strong hamstrings to enable us to do all sorts of activities, including standing from a chair and walking.
The hamstrings are actually 3 individual muscles which run down the back of your thigh. They are attached at the top to your sit bones, the lumpy little rockers at the bottom of the pelvis which we sit on. It’s important to know this so that we can be much more effective in stretching the hamstrings. At the other end, the hamstrings attach below the knee, deep underneath the calf muscle.
The hamstrings can extend our leg at the hip. If you imagine walking, the hamstrings help to move the leg from underneath to behind us so that we can push off our toe and drive the body forward.
The hamstrings can also bend the knee and bring the heel closer to the bottom.
What is a hamstring tear?
A hamstring can become strained from over use, incorrect use, sudden use, such as a quick change of pace or direction or muscular imbalance. There is a higher likelihood of hamstring injury in those who run and sprint without sufficiently warming up, in those who are inflexible or have weak muscles and those who have poorer posture. Hamstrings injuries occur more with age and in those who have previously had a hamstring injury.
A tear is categorised from grade 1, which is slight and usually easily recovered from, to grade 3 which may even require surgical intervention and repair.
Grade 1 injuries will respond well to remedial massage and rest. It may be a little sore for a couple of days and feel tight but doesn’t usually affect your ability to move too much.
Grade 2 hamstring tears will usually involve some pain with walking, strength and flexibility will be reduced and there will be more pain, often occurring suddenly.
If you have heard a pop or snap sound, have difficulty walking and have intense pain, swelling and bruising, you likely have a grade 3 tear.
Preventing hamstring injury
Regular massage and stretching to maintain and improve flexibility, some strength training and attention to posture and use, in particular the tilt of the pelvis, can all help to minimise the occurrence of injury. Wearing the right shoes is important and so is keeping well hydrated.
For sports players, as well as all of the above, adequate warm up and the correct type of training is necessary. Training programs should be graduated to allow time for the body to become accustomed to the load you require for a particular sport. Recovery time is essential between training sessions.
We have shown a simple standing hamstring stretch in our stretch library. It is suitable for all ages, body types and activities and because you can do it in standing, it is easy to fit in throughout the day as required.
Standing tall, pop one foot out in front of you and draw the toes back towards you.
Bend the back leg and support your weight, keeping your pelvis balanced evenly.
Imaging sticking your backside out slightly, ensuring that the sit bones travel back away from the back of the knee and so that the back stays straight.
If your bottom is tucked under and your back is rounded, you won’t be able to achieve an effective stretch.
Bend your knee slightly to ensure the stretch is in the middle and the back of the thigh and not behind the knee.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to one minute and keep your breathing slow and soft. Repeat on both sides.
Melbourne Natural Therapies