Everett Chiropractic Center Blog

August 24, 2014

How To Stretch Your Hamstrings

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The big muscle from the back of your knee to your butt is loose when you sit, and we generally sit a lot! A loose muscle shortens over time. That shortened muscle then becomes a problem when you try to do things other than sit, and it gets labeled “tight”. So we stretch. Here I will talk about two simple and safe ways to stretch this very commonly tight muscle – especially common in people with back pain.

The Basic Hamstring Stretch

Face something that you can put your foot up on, it can be a chair, a countertop, a couch, whatever: the height will be discussed later. Stand with both feet facing straight ahead and shoulder width apart, keep your hips level at all times as much as possible. Now put one foot on the chair, etc. in front of you – keep all the alignments already in place and keep the toes of the elevated foot straight up.

Maintain neutral spine, that is you should be standing up straight. (If you don’t know what neutral spine is search this Blog.) This is a passive stretch. Make it active by contracting your front thigh muscles (quadriceps) and you take advance of neurological reflexes that will enhance your stretch.

Now, your hamstring muscle is either tightened up by this stretch or it isn’t. You are looking for a gentle, reasonably comfortable, stretch that you can maintain for a minimum of 20 seconds, a max of a few minutes. (Recent research suggests it might be best to cycle in and out of the stretch every 6-7 seconds or so, but that isn’t a critical issue right now.)

If you need to find something a little higher to put your foot on, fine; if you need something lower, find that. Alternate the legs back and forth multiple times. And if you know how to maintain neutral spine while leaning slightly forward, you can safely do that. Always maintain the natural curve in your low back – feel it while you are standing up straight and then don’t loose it when you bend over (aka bend at the HIP).

Bonus: if you want to release joint restrictions in your hip socket, which many people unknowingly have, you can 1) turn the foot you are standing on 90° away from the elevated foot, 2) turn the elevated foot 90° in the same direction, 3) face that direction, and 4) thrust your belly button forward. One or the other hip socket may click, indicating a restriction that is now released. None of it should hurt or you might want to talk with your Chiropractic doctor about it.

An Even Simpler Alternative Stretch

Another, even slightly safer, way to stretch the hamstring actively is to lie down on your back, lift one leg straight in the air, and flex the foot and toes back toward you as you push the heel toward the ceiling.

If and when you can get your elevated leg about 90° to the other leg, your hamstrings are at the normal length. Now you will be able to bend and lift safely (if you know how), your walking and running stride will be more normal, and you have one less thing to worry about being an injury risk. Happy hamstrings are healthy hamstrings!

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