Hamstring Stretches to help the Lower Back
Learn how stretching the hamstrings can relieve lower back pain.
Effective hamstring stretches and hamstring injury treatment is vital to the overall health and condition of the lower back muscles and to relieving lower back pain.
The lower part of the spine, or the lumbar region, is the region where most people experience back pain. This part of the back carries the weight of the body and the muscles are prone to strain.
If you suffer from hamstring strain or lower back pain, or are seeking to prevent its occurrence, it is important to follow the information in this article. In addition, adding a few simple stretches to your fitness program will also help. To get started on a safe and effective stretching routine that’s just right for you, check out the Ultimate Guide to Stretching & Flexibility.
Hamstring & Spine Anatomy
The diagram to the right illustrates the vertebrae of the spine. Notice the ‘S’ shape of the spine, which I refer to later
The lower back is acted upon by any of the muscles connected to the lower torso. For example, the abdominal muscles play a leading part in keeping the lower spine straight and any back exercise program must strengthen the abdominals.
The subject of this article, however, is stretching the back of the legs, or hamstring muscles, and how that helps prevent or help treat lower back pain.
It might not seem obviously necessary to stretch your legs in order to help your back, but let me explain why this is so.
The hamstring group of muscles, located at the back of the upper leg, are actually a group of three separate muscles. The top of these muscles are attached to the lower part of the pelvis, and the bottom of the hamstring muscles are attached to the lower leg bone just below the knee joint. The technical or anatomical names for the three hamstring muscles are semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris.
Tight hamstrings tend to pull on the pelvis, as the top of the long hamstring is attached to the pelvis, so this causes a rounding of the lower back (Seen in the images below). Over time, this postural imbalance will lead to back pain.
Normal v’s Abnormal
In the first image, the man has a normal ‘S’ shape in his back.
In the second image, the lower back is rounded, meaning that the hips have been pulled backwards by the hamstring. His back no longer has an ‘S’ shape and is likely to suffer from lower back pain.
By improving the flexibility of the hamstrings you are able to remove the tension from the pelvis and allow the pelvis to sit in its’ natural position, which in turn allows the spine to resume its’ natural ‘S’ shape.
So, how do you improve the flexibility of your hamstrings and relieve lower back pain? With stretching!
As with most activities there are rules and guidelines to ensure that they are safe. Stretching is no exception. Stretching can be extremely dangerous and harmful if done incorrectly. It is vitally important that the following guidelines be adhered to, both for safety and for maximizing the potential benefits of stretching.
- Breathe. Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath can raise your blood pressure, if you do suffer from high blood pressure. In any event, it makes you more tense. The deeper you breathe, the more relaxed you are, the deeper and longer you will be able to stretch.
- Never force a stretch beyond the point of mild discomfort. Stretching tight muscles will be uncomfortable, but you should never feel any sharp or sudden pain. If you do, stop immediately-you are pushing yourself too far.
- Be consistent. Stretching for a few minutes each day will gradually build flexibility and range of motion. This is far preferable to stretching only once a week for a longer time.
- Wear loose comfortable clothing. It’s obviously very difficult to stretch if your clothes are tight and restrict movement.
- Time yourself and try to increase your time in each stretch by a few seconds each week. Start with 10-15 seconds and extend this by 5 seconds each week until you can hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds.
Sample Hamstring Stretches
Increasing flexibility, with regular hamstring stretches, will contribute greatly to the relief of lower back pain and injury. To follow are two very effective and very safe hamstring stretches.
In the stretch to the left, simply kneel down on one knee and place your other leg straight out in front with your heel on the ground. Keep your back straight. Make sure your toes are pointing straight up and gently reach towards your toes with one hand. Use your other arm for balance. Hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times.
In this stretch, stand with one foot raised onto a chair, fence railing or similar object. Keep your raised leg slightly bent, with your toes on the edge of the chair. Let your heel drop off the edge of the chair. Keep your back straight and gently move your chest towards your raised leg. As above, hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times.
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Article from Andrew de Bruyn at HelpBackPain.com. Andrew is the author of Build your Back, Beat the Pain. Spending long hours behind his desk, suffering a lot of back pain in the process, lead Andrew to look for exercises that would, as his book says; build his back and beat the pain. Although Andrew still spends long hours at a desk, his back has been pain free for years and he would like to help others have the same success.