Can tight hamstrings cause lower back pain? If you suffer from low back pain, you have probably been told that it is caused by tight hamstrings and that you need to stretch them to solve your issue. Tight hamstring muscles are a common contributor to lower back pain. These muscles run along the back of each thigh from the hip down to the back of the knee.
When you think of stretching, you usually think of runners and other athletes getting ready for an event. Stretching warms up the muscles for any type of activity to avoid injury and to keep the muscles strong. It also increases the circulation and blood flow to the muscles and other vital organs, including the heart and brain. Stretching is good for the whole body.
Why is Stretching Beneficial?
Muscles that do not get stretched regularly can lose their elasticity and become stiff. Patients who are hospitalized for long periods often receive physical therapy to keep their muscles in good condition. When you don’t move for a long time the muscles in your legs and other limbs can become contracted (shortened) and stiff to where moving is difficult and painful. Stretching and range-of-movement exercises keep this from happening.
5 benefits you get from stretching:
- Reduced muscle tension
- Increased range of movement in the joints
- Enhanced muscular coordination
- Increased circulation to parts of the body
- Increased energy levels
How Does Stretching Work?
Think of muscles like a rubber band, when you pull the end of an elastic band it stretches. When you release, it returns to the spot where it was. Your muscles do the same thing. When you lie on your back and lift one leg, you are pulling that muscle up and it is released when you lower it back down. If you continue doing this type of exercise you will be able to stretch the leg higher over time because that muscle has been strengthened and it can extend the full length of the stretch because it has been conditioned to do so.
If you stretch every day you will become more flexible and it will last awhile. However, if you stop stretching and go back to your old habits, you will lose the flexibility you gained and have to start all over again. The longer you without stretching the more your flexibility will decrease. Participants in a research study were asked to do 5 rounds of stretching to see how long their flexibility stayed. Their flexibility was improved and stayed for almost 10 minutes. After no stretching for over 30 minutes, the muscle went back to its pre-stretch condition. This is another example of “use it or lose it.”
Stretching does two things: it elongates the muscle and decreases muscle stiffness. Muscles that have been stretched move easier and tend to avoid injury. A good rule of thumb is to stretch for at least 10 minutes prior to any activity to give the muscles a chance to warm up and become more elastic. The after effects can last for an hour to an hour and a half after you’ve finishe ItIt also helps with your range of motion, or being able to move in a certain way like reaching above your head or turning to look over your shoulder.
Muscle is itself pretty elastic, but that elasticity decreases over time and especially with age. As we age, our muscles lose that stretchiness and can become stiff and injury is more likely in this case. To maintain flexibility you must continue daily exercises that stretch those muscles to keep them working like they should. We can measure the extent of our flexibility by extensibility and stiffness.
•Extensibility is how far the muscle can extend without causing pain or discomfort.
•Stiffness is measured by how much force is needed to complete the range of motion. Does it move easily, or do you have to push at the end to complete it?.
Is it the mechanical motion of the stretch, or does the stretching causes the muscles to change form or consistency? Many textbooks on stretching and exercise base their opinion on the muscle lengthening when performing a stretch. The more elastic the muscle is, the easier the movement will be.
Tight Hamstrings & Back Pain
Hamstring muscles that don’t get worked very often becomes tight and places increased stress on the lower back and can aggravate an existing condition such as sciatica or low back pain. Hamstring stretches should be done at least twice a day to stretch these muscles keeping them smooth and elastic. There are many good hamstring stretches for lower back pain.
Stretching does not have to be done standing for long periods of time either. Some can be done lying down, or sitting in a chair to take the stress of your back. They are easy and take very little time to complete.
Other Benefits to be Gained from Stretching
Relieves Stress and Lifts Your Mood
It’s hard to feel good when you’re stressed out. Your muscles become tense in response to the stress and can increase pain that is already there, making it feel worse than before. Exercise releases endorphins that lift your mood, increases blood flow, and helps you sleep better too. Stretch every morning upon waking for a great start to your day.
Stretching to Prevent the Afternoon Crash
It is not uncommon to feel sleepy or tired in the late afternoon. If you find yourself nodding off, get up and walk around, do stretches at your desk, or take a walk to the copier to wake yourself up. You’ll get an added boost of energy to help you through the rest of the day.
Makes You More Flexible
One of the most important reasons is flexibility of joints and muscles. Daily stretching helps your joints stay lubricated so they move easy and muscles stretch the way they should when walking and standing. You should be able to move, bend, and pivot without pain or stiffness. Good stretches for the lower back include the seated hamstring stretch and standing calf raises. Strengthening your core muscles will increase your overall muscle strength and prevent a lot of pain and soreness in your back from strain.
Stretching Improves Your Posture
When you stretch you lengthen tight muscles that tend to pull parts of your body away from their intended positions, keeping your muscles loose, especially in your back torso. This helps keep your spine in the best possible alignment and relieve backaches and back pain. When back pain is alleviated, you tend to slouch less too.
What does posture have to do with back pain? Sitting slumped over your desk for too many hours puts a lot of stress on your neck, shoulders, and spine which result in pain that radiates down the neck and into the lower back. When you sit with your back straight it shifts that pressure to a different area of the body eliminating the pain that normally occurs.
Where Do You Start?
When it comes to increasing and maintaining flexibility of core muscles, you should aim to work out 2 – 3 times per week, and daily stretching exercises. Daily stretching keeps the muscles in the spine strong and able to stabilize the spinal vertebrae. Stretching is also good for other parts of the body as well.
You can do some exercises at home or find a trainer to work out with. A trainer can help you stay motivated to workout every day. Anything you do for a 14-day period becomes a habit, so stretching and exercising daily is a good habit to get into because it helps you stay healthy and fit. If you have a condition which limits your movement like arthritis you can modify a lot of the movements to work best for you.
- Warm up slowly
- Hold the stretch for 20 – 30 seconds
- Breathe in and out, don’t hold your breath
- Do a modified stretch if you need to
Proper technique is as important as following the right program. Warming up should be done before exercising and right after as a cool down from activity. 10 minutes of light stretching, followed by a 30-minute walk around the park, followed by another 10 minutes of stretching puts the finishing touches on your workout regimen. You should never start exercising without warming up first. Warming up the muscles gets them ready to move, and prevents the soreness you sometimes end up with the next day.
These are good exercises for lower back pain. Practice these hamstring stretching exercises daily for 20 – 30 minutes:
Wall Hamstring Stretch – Lie on the floor, with the buttocks against a wall and the legs stretched up against the wall. Try to push the knee as straight as possible. This stretch is usually gentle on the lower back, as it places minimal stress on the low back and the body is supported while lying down.
Standing Hamstring Stretch – Standing straight with hands on your hips, bend forward at the waist and let your arms hanging down toward the ground with legs straight, but do not lock the knees. Lean forward to touch the toes but do not strain. When you feel resistance stop pulling. You can modify this exercise by crossing one foot over the other, or using a chair to rest your hands on.
Chair Hamstring Stretch – Sit straight in a chair and place one leg straight out on another chair in front of the body. Reach toward the toes and stretch one leg at a time. Repeat with other leg.
Towel Hamstring Stretch – Lie on your back and hold each end of a rolled-up towel and wrap it behind the foot. Then slowly raise the leg up in front of the body to feel a slight stretch in the hamstring muscle. Use the towel as a guide but do not use it to “pull” the leg up.
These stretches for your lower back will help to reduce pain and stiffness and increase your flexibility:
The Prone Press up – lie on your stomach propped up by your arms. As you inhale, straighten your elbows and press your palms flat against the floor. Hold for 3 – 5 seconds and return to the starting position.
The Knee to Chest – sit on your knees with your hands on the front of the thighs. Learn forward with your hands on the floor and stretch them as far as you can forward until your chest is resting on your legs.press your face forward until your forehead is resting on the floor. Hold for 5 – 10 seconds and return to start.
Lumbar Rotation Stretch – Sit facing forward with one leg crossed over the other at the knee. Reach around with one arm over the thigh and twist slightly and look over the shoulder. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other side. Hold each stress for 3 – 5 seconds before completing.
Other types of exercises that will help improve flexibility and strength is cardio, lunges, swimming, and physical sports like tennis. Vary your exercise routine to work different body parts each time. Train each part only 2 – 3 times per week and alternate days. Another great exercise that works all the body parts is moderate walking. This is a great opportunity to walk your dog as they tend to have their own pace and it will keep you moving along as well.
Start each morning by stretching and with a good amount of daily exercise. Keeping fit not only keeps your weight under control but strengthens the muscles in your back and reduces a lot of stress and strain when performing other activities.
If you are feeling low back pain, a self-care plan to manage the pain and restore mobility is essential. By keeping your spine mobile and strong and by maintaining good posture, you may be able to quickly return to your normal activities and lifestyle.
If you are experiencing lower back pain, a plan to incorporate exercise into your daily routine should help reduce the discomfort as ease the soreness in the muscles when you begin your program of stretching and flexibility training. Stretching daily is good for the body and the mind and is a good way to begin the day.
Stretching regularly can help your body and joints move more freely, allowing you to enjoy full functional mobility. Check in with your physical therapist to find out which stretches are best for you to do.
Maintaining flexibility in the muscles and joints in imperative to your health. If you experience pain while stretching or doing the exercise use a modified form until the pain is diminished. Talk with your doctor before beginning any strenuous exercise program if you’ve had any back injuries or surgery.
I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you have any questions about back pain and hamstring exercises, leave a comment down below.