Do you stretch your hamstrings often? Do you feel like your hamstrings never seem to get loose even after you give them a good stretch?
If so, you are not alone. Many people suffer from tight hamstrings, especially those that do a lot of high-intensity training. You would think that stretching your hammies would make them more flexible. If you hamstrings stay tight no matter how much you stretch them, then your problem may not be related to tightness.
For some, the tension felt in the hamstring may be coming from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve travels down the hamstring and into the calf. If the sciatic nerve is compressed, it can result in sciatica, a painful condition that causes numbness and tingling down the leg. A slight compression of the sciatic nerve, which can result from doing repetitive activities, can cause a minor irritation of the nerve. When this happens, a common side effect is a feeling of tightness in the hamstring.
Here are three easy steps to determine whether the restriction in your hamstring is muscle tightness or nerve tension:
1. Perform a basic straight-leg raise (SLR).
To do this, lay on your back with your legs straight. Lift each leg, one at a time, and note the angle of your leg. You should be able to lift your leg to at least 90 degrees. Take note of where you feel the tension.
2. Perform a second straight-leg raise.
If there is an improved angle and decrease in tension, it is likely that there may be a minor irritation of the sciatic nerve. If you don’t see any change, it is very likely that your hamstrings are in fact the problem.
Even if a series of hip stretches was already on your regular agenda, a newfound intention may make all the difference. For all the yogis out there, an easy stretch for the hip is the pigeon pose. Another option is to sit on the floor, crossing your right leg over your left with your right knee bent (see image below). Hug your knee into your chest and you’ll feel the stretch in the back of your right hip. Repeat both sides with a hold for 60 – 90 seconds.
2. Don’t neglect your hamstring.
Remember that the hip and hamstring work together. Focusing on improving flexibility of both will maintain proper muscle health. Quick tip: Start with stretching the hip first and then move onto stretching the hamstring. This will make sure that you clear any restriction in the hip that may be masking as hamstring tightness first. It will also allow you to more effectively stretch and maintain the health of your hamstring.