How Tight Hamstrings Cause Back Pain & Other Problems

There are a lot of factors that can cause tight hamstrings but one thing is certain. If you develop tight hamstrings you’re likely to develop other issues as well. Lifestyles involving a lot of sitting naturally cause tight hamstrings by keeping your legs at a constant right angle for prolonged periods of time. Other things like overworking, without stretching can cause tight short muscles in your hamstrings resulting in a multitude of other problems.

Why are tight hamstrings bad?

Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back pain, bad posture, imbalances of muscles, and knee pain. If your hamstrings aren’t flexible enough they will be more susceptible to injury. Once your hammies are tight, other muscle groups will follow resulting in stiff joints and posture problems. For instance, tight hamstrings can lead to tight hip flexors, glutes, and lower back muscles resulting in a posterior pelvic tilt. In addition to tightness, pain, and being prone to injury, tight muscles have reduced performance. Muscles that are tight have reduced blood flow which results in a decrease in capacity of performance.

How can you tell if you have tight hamstrings?

There are some tests that a chiropractor or physical therapist can perform to identify if you have tight hamstrings. The most well known is the 90/90 test. To complete this test lie on your back with both legs flat. Reach down and clasp your hands behind the thigh of one of your legs. Bring that leg up so that the angle of your hip (back to femur) is at 90 degrees. Then bring your foot up so that the angle of your knee is at 90 degrees. You then attempt to move your foot up so that your leg is in a straight line. The inability to get within 20-30 degrees at your knee implies tight hamstrings. This test is not perfect however and many other factors can contribute to the inability to straighten your leg including scar tissue and past injuries. There is another much simpler test of course. If you can’t touch your toes while keeping your knees locked you probably have tight hamstrings. When performing this kind of stretch it’s important to make sure your stable and safe. We recommend doing it in a seated position. When performing this kind of hamstring stretch take note of where you’re tightest. If your hamstrings feel fine but your lower back is hurting it might not be an issue with your hamstrings. Other signs that you have overly tight hamstrings include low back pain and stiffness, knee pain, and radiating pain in buttocks and back of leg (sciatica pain). The latter could be caused by the sciatica nerve being pinched but is often related to tight hamstrings as well.

What causes tight hamstrings

Aside from genetic reasons, the most common reasons for tight hamstrings include too much sitting, not enough stretching, and sciatic nerve issues. Sitting for 8 or more hours a day pretty common in modern America. This can cause the muscles of your posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, low back) to shorten, causing them to tighten. Sitting also results in lower blood flow which has other adverse effects on your muscles. It’s common knowledge that you should stretch after exercise. However, you don’t often think about stretching after sitting. If you work a desk job you may want to consider adding a stretching regimen into your daily routine. If you’re an athlete and find yourself experiencing hamstring tightness you may want to add more stretches to your post-workout routine.

How to prevent and treat tight hamstrings

Preventing hamstring tightness is pretty straightforward. However, it can be more difficult if you have a desk job or find yourself sitting for several hours out of the day. Typically prevention refers to strengthening rather than stretching. The best exercises for avoiding tight hamstrings include those that strengthen your core muscles and quadriceps. Planks and leg extensions are examples of exercises that will strengthen those muscle groups aiding in the prevention of hamstring tightness. Stretches that focus on your hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back, and calves will dramatically increase hamstring flexibility and reduce tightness. Foam rolling your hip flexors, quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves will help in your stretching routine. This will also promote good blood flow and help to break up the fascia surrounding your muscles allowing them to stretch more completely. If stretching and exercise don’t work there are always therapy modalities such as massage, chiropractic care, and physical therapy which will help you get the rest of the way there.