From the perspective of a physical therapist, I notice hamstring tightness in a large number of my patients. Seeing patients with tight hamstrings is probably not unusual considering tightness in these muscles is associated with a variety of injuries such as patellofemoral pain and hamstring strains.1,2
This article will address static stretching of the hamstrings or the muscles located at the back of the thighs.
The bulk of the hamstring muscles run from the buttock region to just below the knee. If you sit on your hands, the bony portion you feel is where these muscles originate. The hamstrings can be felt running down the back of the thigh, and tendons can be felt as taut bands on each side of the back of the knee. When we sit with the knees bent, these muscles are shortened, which may lead to tightness over time.
Stretching the Hamstrings
Static stretching of the hamstrings is effective for improving flexibility, and it probably doesn’t matter what stretch is performed.3 The following are three common stretches.
- Lie on your back with the leg stretched straight and the opposite knee bent. I recommend the opposite knee be bent to take some stress off the spine although the leg can lie straight if you prefer.
- Use a strap, beach towel, dog leash, etc. to help raise the leg up while keeping the knee straight until a stretch is felt.
- Sit at the edge of a chair with the leg to be stretched held straight.
- Lean forward at the hips.
- There is no need to lean forward to touch your toes unless you are also working on increasing flexibility of the spine.
- This picture depicts the end of the stretch.
- Place your leg to be stretched on a step
- Keep leg straight and lean from the hips until a pull or stretch is felt at the back of the thigh
- This picture shows the end of the stretch