Healthy Runners' Series Part III of III - The Tight Hamstring Myth

This is the final post in a three-part series we are writing this spring about issues pertaining to runners and common complaints we see in the office from our clients who are runners themselves. With summer just around the corner many of us are returning to our exercise routines -  which for some means dusting off the old sneakers and hitting the pavement or treadmill. We’ve written about the drawbacks and potential benefits of running before on our blog, and now we want to give our readers an insider’s perspective into the common issues that stop some runners in their tracks and what you can do to support your body as a runner.

If you are struggling with pain or an injury related to running - we can help resolve your pain for good. Call 347-841-6076 or get in touch at karmachiropractic.com to schedule your FREE phone consultation today!

Tight hamstrings are the curse of many a runner. But did you know that for many of us, no amount of stretching, massage or foam rolling will loosen up those tight hammies? Stretching is a fantastic preventive measure to keep healthy tissue in good working order, but if you’re already experiencing chronically tight hamstrings, you’ve most likely progressed past the point where stretching will be of any help. This is because the two most common causes of tight hamstrings actually have NOTHING to do with a lack of flexibility in the hamstrings. These two phenomena are:

  • Protective Tension

    • A term coined by Dr. Bill Brady (Dr. Mike’s mentor and the founder of Integrative Diagnosis), protective tension describes the tendency of muscle tissue to contract around an injury to prevent excessive stress from being exerted upon damaged tissue. In the case of the hamstrings, they will often go into protective tension mode when damaged muscles or discs in the lower back are strained with activity, such as bending over.

  • Sciatic Nerve Entrapment

    • This occurs when the sciatic nerve - the largest nerve in the body- gets stuck to surrounding muscles and connective tissue in the hip joint or lower down throughout the leg. Sitting is the number-one-culprit for sciatic nerve entrapment, which is often associated with shooting pains in the hamstrings and low back. Other symptoms of sciatic nerve entrapment are tension, burning, tingling and aching pains throughout the backs of the legs, hips and/or up into the low back.

If you’re experiencing protective tension in the hamstrings as a result of low back degeneration or sciatica related to a nerve entrapment, stretching the hamstrings will NOT fix your problem. Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms in the low back or hip, your tight hamstrings are probably telling you something about one of these two areas.

These conditions are frequently overlooked by the medical community, which is a big problem! How many hundreds of thousands of folks are out there creating nascent disc injuries and nerve entrapments thinking the problem is tight hamstrings? The truth is that you would have to have an adhesion the size of a baseball in your hamstring muscle alone to cause a decrease in your ability to stretch that muscle. The sole cause is almost always an adhesion between the sciatic nerve and the muscles of the hips and legs.

Determining the root cause of your tight hamstrings and the severity of your condition takes an expert’s skill set, but there’s a simple self-test you can use to gauge the health of your hip and low back. Here’s how it goes...

How To: Straight Leg Raise - Test Your Range of Motion in the Low Back/Hips

  1. Lie on your back with legs outstretched straight on the ground in front of you.

  2. Keeping leg straight and foot flexed, raise one leg at a time, aiming to get the raised leg perpendicular to the ground, forming a right angle.

  3. You PASS the test if you can raise your leg 90 degrees easily and without pain

  4. You FAIL if you cannot get the leg to 90 degrees perpendicular to the floor, or you experience pain or discomfort in the hamstring, low back, or hip joint during the leg raise. 

A failed test indicates that you are likely suffering from a buildup of myofascial adhesion in the hip or low back. Our bodies layer adhesion - a dense collagenous form of internal scar tissue - in and around weakened and/or injured structures as part of its normal healing processes (if you’ve never heard of adhesion before, check out this post for a more thorough explanation). Over time, repeated activity leads to a buildup of adhesion that can limit range of motion and cause structures that should be separate to become glued together. This is an incredibly common phenomenon, not only for runners and other athletes, but also for sedentary people and those who work a desk job or spend a lot of time sitting down.

If you fail the test above on one or both legs, you could already be on the way to a disc injury or suffering from an entrapped sciatic nerve. Integrative Diagnosis can quickly identify the structures causing you pain and works to remove adhesion over the course of several treatments, unloading your soft tissue and restoring movement and function to the affected areas. Dr. Mike Murray of Karma Chiropractic is the most advanced practitioner of Integrative Diagnosis within 100 miles of New York City and specializes in finding and fixing myofascial adhesion throughout the entire body. Call 347-841-6076 or visit karmachiropractic.com to book a FREE phone consultation with Dr. Mike and take the first step toward living the life you love, pain-free.