Hamstrings and Back Pain

I’ve known for a long time that hamstring inflexibility can cause and exacerbate low back pain. Even when I was younger and my body worked well, my muscles were stiff. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m stiffer than ever. I’ve been dealing with hip and back pain for a year, but until recently, my hamstrings didn’t seem to be the culprit.

hamstring stretch
This is my position for the hamstring stretch. Oddly, I thought my left leg was flat on the mat, but obviously it’s not. Leg-selfie, LOL!

As with all things health-related, our bodies are unique, and what benefits and harms them is often different than what produces similar results in our friends and family. Last week, after my usual chiropractic adjustment, I decided to try a new way of stretching to give my hamstrings one last chance to loosen up and relax their overly powerful grip on my back. My chiropractor agreed that the L5 “involvement” in my back is probably related to stiff legs.

I’ve tried every way imaginable to stretch my hamstrings in the past. I work in physical therapy and have even tried some unconventional methods. This time, I went with the tried-and-true, but with a few modifications.

Lying on my back on a yoga mat, I locked down my abdominal muscles to protect my back. I looped a Stretch Out Strap around my right foot and extended my leg into the air. I allowed my left leg to lie flat on the mat, which isn’t the easiest position to get into while ab bracing.

When I straightened my right leg in the air above my body, I felt an extremely uncomfortable (and familiar) pull at my ankle and knee. Muscles were definitely getting stretched. I used my right hand to hold the Stretch Out Strap and my left hand to force my right knee completely straight. My abs were braced the whole time, and for three minutes without a break I stayed in that position.

I can’t say it was pleasant. Far from it. I sweated. I cursed. I tried to think of distractions. If I’d allowed my resting leg to bend at the knee, as many people recommend, my pelvis would’ve been more comfortable. But I was going for gold. After a year of back pain, I knew taking the comfortable way was not the way for me.

I repeated the scenario on my left leg, with about a minute’s rest between stretches. For a few hours, my back felt worse, but later in the day, I noticed improvement. After five days of aggressively stretching my hamstrings, my back is so much better– no more crazed, pain-driven howling in the middle of the night.

I have no idea if hamstring stretching will work for everybody, but I’m certain that stiff muscles leave us all more susceptible to injury. Ask a physical therapist, check out reputable websites, and get to work on those hamstrings. Don’t give up if results aren’t immediate or the first few positions you try don’t help. You might find relief like I have through trial and error, and once you’re feeling better, the discomfort to get there will have been worth it.

As with all things health-related, ask your healthcare provider before trying anything new.

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