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Facts on Tight Hamstring Muscles

The Whats and Wheres of Hamstrings

We all most likely know that the hamstrings have something to do with the backs of our thighs. But what are these muscles, really? Hamstrings are made up of three long muscles: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus, that run on the outside and inside of our legs. These muscles stretch from your rear end to the backs of your knees. They not only help bend the knee, they stabilize the joint when walking and twisting. It's important for these muscles to be flexible in order to work correctly.

You Might Have Only Yourself to Blame for Tight Hamstrings

Several factors can play a key role in causing tight hamstrings. Prolonged sitting can hold the hamstrings in a contracted state, causing them to lose their flexibility. Not stretching before physical activity can contribute to tight hamstrings. Lower back problems lead to pressure on the sciatic nerve running from down the backs of your legs or over-extension of the lower back when bending forward, resulting in hamstring tightness. Or tight hamstrings might simply be genetics.

It's All in the Anatomy

Everything in our bodies are connected; a problem in one area will affect another. In the case of tight hamstrings, the problem is not contained to the backs of your legs. Tight hamstring muscles will affect your hips, lower back and pelvis. Without flexible hamstring muscles, our bodies must rely on other muscles to do their work, such as those of our lower back, buttocks and hips, overtaxing them and leaving them tired and more susceptible to injury. Even the muscles of the lower abdomen can become weakened because of tight hamstring muscles.

Loosening Hamstrings is Quite a Stretch

Flexibility is key when it comes to hamstring muscles. The best way to get our hamstrings flexible is to perform stretching exercises, not only for your hamstrings but for your lower back as well. Sit with one leg slightly bent; rotate the straight leg inward and lean forward, hold for 30 seconds, then rotate the leg outward and lean forward for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Lie on your back with both legs straight. Now raise one leg, keeping it straight. Extend it as far as possible. Have someone hold the leg up if you're not able to on your own, and gradually and gently push the leg toward your head until you feel a stretch.

Think Outside the Stretch

In some cases, stretching the hamstrings may not be enough. You may need to try other methods to loosen tight hamstrings. Applying a hot, moist heat pack wrapped in cloth to your hamstrings for 20 minutes is effective. Massaging the hamstrings will increase blood flow to the muscles and help to get them loose and flexible. If your hamstring tightness results from lower back problems, visits to a chiropractor or physical therapist can help to fix the problem.

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About the Author

Kelsey Casselbury is a freelance writer and editor based in central Maryland. Her clients have included Livestrong, School Nutrition magazine, What's Up? Media, American Academy of Clinical Chemistry, SmartBrief and more. She has a formal education in personal training/nutrition and a bachelor's degree in journalism from The Pennsylvania State University.

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