Motion Stability's Blog

Can stretching my hamstrings get rid of my low back pain? by charlestlee

Brian Yee PT, MPhty, OCS, FAAOMPT

There are cases when stretching your hamstrings can be good for your back and other cases when it can make it worse. It can be good to stretch your hamstrings when they are tight due to poor mechanics and posture. Many times people use their hamstrings too much to move and stand. Your hips and butt muscles, as well as your ankle/foot joints and muscles should be the primary areas that provide stability and movement. If they don’t work correctly or fatigue easily, then your hamstrings will, by default, have to be used to get you through the day. Your hamstrings attach to the bottom of your pelvis that connects with your back. If they get tight it can put excessive stresses on your pelvis and back. In these cases, stretching the hamstrings followed up with exercises to improved the strength and mobility of your hips and feet can help reduce stresses and pain on your low back.

One reason not to stretch your hamstrings when you have back pain is when you also have current or recurring sciatic nerve pain. The sciatic nerve starts from the low back and runs down the back of your leg, in between your hamstrings. When sciatica occurs not only do you get pain down the back of your leg, but the muscles that surround the sciatic nerve can spasm and a feeling of ‘tightness’ can occur. The patient at times may perceive what they think is ‘hamstring tightness’ may actually be muscle tightness or guarding from an irritated sciatic nerve. We have seen patients trying to stretch their hamstrings and make their back pain worse because they were essentially overstretching their sciatic nerve instead. Nerves don’t like to be ‘stretched’ as much as muscles. The sciatic nerve also comes directly from the back. Over-stretching the sciatic nerve can thus put more stress on the back. In these cases, it is important to consult with a Physical Therapist that understands how to differentiate whether the sciatic nerve is involved.