Are your “hamstrings tight”? Is stretching making your symptoms worse? Did you know that it might not actually be your hamstrings limiting your flexibility or causing pain?
There is a big nerve running down the back of your thigh alongside the hamstring muscle group called the sciatic nerve. It can get irritated with trauma, repeated wear and tear from poor movement patterns, compression, or quick and/or prolonged stretching. Similarly, a reported symptom of short or “tight” hamstrings could be caused from overuse, body alignment, quick/sudden stretch movements, or direct or indirect trauma (Valle, 2017).
So how do you know which is the culprit and how to go about treating it?? Good thing you have great physical therapists at AMTA to help you figure out this differential diagnosis!
We have several tools in our tool box to figure out if your symptoms are nervy or from the hamstrings, one of those tools being the Straight Leg Raise Test. This test can measure the hamstring flexibility, and rule in or out nerve involvement.
Now I know what you’re asking yourself, how do we treat a nerve injury vs. a hamstring injury?
First thing is first. Nerves do not like to be stretched or compressed. This is why stretching your hamstrings at the gym is making your symptoms worse. We describe nerves like the consistency of dental floss, which…can’t be stretched. Treatment will consist of nerve glides to glide the nerve along its pathway, break up any adhesions, and sooth the nerve. These adhesions, or sticky spots, bind the nerve and create tension, which have decreased the flexibility of your leg.
If the straight leg raise test does not indicate nerve involvement, then it’s safe to say the hamstrings may be the limiting your flexibility. However, that will require even more investigating to decide if there is a potential strain, tendon pathology, short muscles, referred pain from a stress fracture, etc.
So before you go cranking away on stretching those poor “hammys”, come see us at Austin Manual Therapy Associates.
Olivia Hulme, PT, DPT