One of the most common complaints that I hear is ‘I have tight hamstrings’.
And the most common cure I see?
People stretching their hamstrings.
But even with all this chronic stretching, people often still feel as if their strings are tight? Which leads us to the question, are your hamstrings actually tight?
And the answer, like with so many things health and fitness related, isn’t a particularly good one.
Probably, maybe, sort of ..... But that’s not actually the issue.
Muscle tightness vs Misalignment
If someone constantly complains of tight hamstrings you should have a look at their pelvic alignment. I would put my money on them having some excessive anterior pelvic tilt (APT).
APT describes the forward ‘tilt’ of the pelvis when looked at from the side. Whilst slight APT is actually the norm in majority of the population, it is often worsened by excessive time spent in the seated position, and can have an impact on the hamstrings. Excessive APT results in someone kind of looking like Donald duck, with the pelvis tilted very far forward.
If you have a look at a pelvis with significant anterior tilt, you can begin to see why the hamstrings may feel tight. As they attach to the pelvis, when it is anteriorly tilted, they are placed in a lengthened position, hence the feeling of tightness. Now as they are already lengthened, is stretching them (trying to make them longer) going to improve the problem?
No. In fact, it may even do the opposite, potentially worsening the already apparent APT.
So rather than tight, we should think long. Long and weak, as they do not have the strength to maintain normal pelvic positioning.
Whilst weak hamstrings are a potential contributor, we also need to look at the other muscles that act on the pelvis.
On the front of the body we have quite a few muscles that act on the pelvis, with the hip flexors and knee extensors the two most likely to be pulling the pelvis into anterior tilt. Now these muscles here are most likely tight in the way people think of tight muscles. As in they are short and stiff. What I mean by short and stiff, is that they are in a shortened position due to sedentary activity, and stiff as they rarely get used in a lengthened position, causing them to become tight and immobile.
It is these muscles that are going to require stretching and myofascial release to restore length and mobility, and hopefully help return the pelvis to a more neutral position.
With this it comes back to proper assessment and ensuring that we treat problems and not symptoms. In this case we can see that tight feeling hamstrings are the symptom, and by stretching them, they may feel better acutely but we are not actually treating the problem that is causing the sensation of tightness, being the pelvic position. Always look into a symptom in depth to try and establish its cause, rather than trying to treat it as a problem.
If you feel like you this article applies to you, and are unsure of how to deal with it I can help you here!