Stretching after a workout is very common in recovery programs. ‘Tight’ muscles that are not properly managed could lead to potential muscle imbalances, abnormal movement patterns and compensatory strategies, and even muscle spasms. The hamstrings are responsible for specific muscle actions in different body regions and contribute to many movements that we perform daily! They too can become ‘tight’ and as a result, can contribute to some of the issues we mentioned earlier. The positive is that there are many different ways to stretch your hamstrings, with individualized variations! However, as with any movement, there are many ways to do it! And some are much more advantageous than others! For starters, proper hamstring stretching does not mean that you should only be feeling a stretch in your foot! And if you are going to stretch your hamstrings, you must know why you are doing so! In this article, we will show you proper hamstring stretching, and how you can implement various techniques as part of your daily routine to keep you moving often and moving well!

 

What Are The Hamstrings?

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that include: the biceps femoris (long head), semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. All three muscles of the posterior thigh originate from the ischial tuberosity (sit bone) of the hip and insert into either the tibia or fibula at the knee. The hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip; thus, to stretch the hamstrings you must do the opposite actions: extend the knee and flex the hip. So if the hamstrings originate at the hip and insert at the knee, should you be feeling a hamstring stretch in your foot, more than likely not.

Hamstring Muscle Anatomy

 

Looking For More Help With Your Hamstrings?

hamstring prehab program hamstring stretching prehab guys

Hamstring injuries are one of the most common soft tissue injuries in sports. They are especially challenging and frustrating due to the high recurrence rate. This is largely because people don’t appropriately rehab their injuries. It’s time to change the narrative and be proactive with taking care of your hamstrings! This program will expose your hamstrings in a safe and effective manner to prepare you for high-level activities! Learn more HERE! 

 

What Should I Be Feeling During A Hamstring Stretch?

If you’re feeling a “stretch” in your lower leg or foot during a hamstring stretch, you are most likely experiencing neurogenic symptoms arising from the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve, the largest and longest nerve in the body, branches off of the lumbosacral plexus (L4-S3) near the hips and runs down the posterior thigh and leg all the way to the foot. Unlike muscles, nerves do not like to be stretched or tensioned. Instead, nerves are supposed to glide or slide within soft tissue nerve beds. Impaired neurodynamics or soft tissue restrictions limit nerve sliding and instead tension the nerve. This can generate symptoms of pain, numbness, and tingling, anywhere along the nerve’s sensory distribution.

Certain hamstring stretches, in particular, are very prone to tensioning the sciatic nerve. While knee extension and hip flexion stretch the hamstrings, this movement can also potentially tension the sciatic nerve, if neurodynamics is impaired and the rest of the body is not positioned properly. What is important to understand is certain positions at other joints, like the neck, hips, back, or ankle can place undesired, additional tension on the nerves in your legs. For instance, rounding your upper back while doing a perfect hamstring stretch could place additional tension on your sciatic nerve! Learn and be mindful of the particular joint positions outlined below while doing your hamstring stretches to ensure you aren’t placing excessive tension on your sciatic nerve if you’re sensitive to neurogenic symptoms! However, it is important to note that the majority of individuals can handle small amounts of neural tension, but if your goal is to just stretch your hamstrings, then try to remove the neural tension out of the equation for now!

 

Tips and Tricks To Mastering The Hamstring Stretch

 

Learn How To Minimize Neural Tension

These movements below are what you should consider avoiding when performing proper hamstring stretching in order to minimize neural tension:

  • Ankle dorsiflexion (pointing your foot up)

 

  • Lumbar spine flexion (rounding your back)

 

  • Cervical spine flexion (looking down)

 

  • Hip adduction (bringing your leg towards the midline)

 

  • Or hip medial rotation (turning your toes inwards).

 

Therefore, an optimal hamstring string stretch should only stretch the hamstrings, without excessive tension of the sciatic nerve. So, what’s the best way to properly stretch the hamstrings while minimizing as much neural tension as possible?

Proper Hamstring Stretching: Ankle Dorsiflexion

hamstring dorsiflexion proper hamstring stretchingFrom Sportex

 

Hamstring strains are one of the most common soft tissue injuries in athletes. Moreover, the recurrence rates for these types of injuries are high, similar to ankle sprains. Although stretching both static and dynamic should be implemented into routine rehabilitation programs, there is much more that goes into a solid program to improve the health of your hamstrings as well as assist in any potential recurrence of the injury in the future. To learn more about hamstring strains as well as how you can overcome this injury, read our blog post below!

READ: WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT HAMSTRING STRAINS

hamstring strains proper stretching prehab guys

 

 

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The Prehab membership is the anti-barrier solution to keeping your body healthy. Access state-of-the-art physical therapy, fitness programs, and workouts online in the comforts of your own home or gym! Taking control of your health with exercise & education from the palm of your hand has never been easier. Get access to 50+ programs, 100+ unique workouts, and 3000+ exercises to build your own workout routines. Trial it for free, and learn how to get out of pain, avoid injury, and optimize your health with [P]rehab!

 

Proper Hamstring Stretching Technique

Now that you understand what the hamstring muscles are and what neural tension is, we can now show you different ways to stretch the hamstrings! Follow along with the videos below that include descriptions below them for proper hamstring stretching! We go through various positions and types of stretches that you can replicate for proper hamstring stretching, including static stretching, dynamic stretching, and contract-relax!

Standing Hamstring Stretch With Leg Elevated

Sample Hamstring [P]rehab Program Exercise

  • Raise your desired leg to be stretched on a slightly elevated surface. Keep your toes pointed down.

 

  • Extend your knee, but keep a slight bend in it. You will still get a hamstring stretch through lengthening at the proximal end near the hip.

 

  • Tuck your pelvic or anterior pelvic tilt. The hamstrings attach to the ischial tuberosity of the pelvis, therefore an anterior pelvic tilt will lengthen the hamstrings proximally— Many times, just after these initial three steps, you will feel a good stretch in your hamstrings.

 

  • To increase the stretch even more: While maintaining a neutral spine position, slowly lean forward to increase hip flexion until you feel a stretch. Do not lose the neutral spine position and slump forward, as this places large amounts of tension on your nerves!

 

***Throughout all these motions, be sure to avoid the above 4 joint positions that can cause excess tension the sciatic nerve: ankle dorsiflexion, lumbar spine flexion, cervical spine flexion, hip adduction or hip internal rotation.***

 

When properly stretching your hamstrings, you should only feel a stretch in your hamstrings. No “stretch-like sensations”, burning, numbness, or tingling anywhere else but your hamstrings at any time! If you are still experiencing neural symptoms with the above stretch, try pointing your towns down (ankle plantarflexion) and lookup (cervical spine extension). If balance or kinesthetic awareness is an issue, try the exact same stretch holding onto something for balance or on your back with the leg to be stretched elevated.

Standing Dynamic Stretch

Dynamic hamstring stretching is another great way to enhance the mobility of the hamstrings. Dynamic simply means that you are moving in and out of position, rather than holding it for a sustained amount of time, which would be a static stretch. Get set-up standing, feet shoulder-width apart, with the side you want to stretch – place the foot slightly in front of the other on an elevated surface. While maintaining a relatively flat back, neutral spine, and neutral foot position hinge at your hip and reach for your toes. Slowly come back to the starting position and repeat.

LISTEN: HOW MUCH SHOULD WE STRETCH?

proper hamstring stretching how much do i need to stretch prehab guys podcast

 

Contract Relax At Wall

Sample Hamstring [P]rehab Program Exercise

This is an excellent way to stretch your hamstrings. The caveat to this is the positioning of the exercise, as you will have to get up and down from the floor. However, I look at this exercise and other exercises where individuals need to get up and down from the ground as a ‘blessing in disguise so to speak. The reason being is that sometimes, individuals may have fear associated with movements or activities that are difficult for them. Patients will tell us frequently that they do not try to get down on the floor cause they “know” or are “scared” that they will not be able to get up. Overcoming barriers and fears of functional movements is a great way to improve your quality of life and give you the confidence to move the ways your body can!

Contract-relax is another great method to enhance the mobility of your hamstrings. Contract-relax is under the umbrella of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This method of stretching essentially “tricks” your body so that you can gain more range of motion at a particular muscle group, joint, etc. Start by lying on your back with one leg up on a wall or doorway. Push into the wall with your feet and contract your hamstring muscles for the prescribed amount of time and then relax. Feel the stretch in your hamstrings as you relax. After each rep, try to get a deeper stretch.

 

Take Control of Your Hamstring Health

hamstring prehab program hamstring stretching prehab guys

What was your high school superlative? If the hamstrings had one it’d be most likely to be injured in the lower body. The good news is the hamstrings have reflected and want to change their ways to become the least likely to become injured. That happens with strength training geared at injury prevention!

 

Closing Thoughts

As discussed in this article, knowing the anatomy of your body and how your muscles work is a great way to enhance how you move overall! Key takeaways from this article are that the hamstrings muscle action is to flex the knee and extend the hip. In order to stretch, or lengthen that muscle group, simply do the opposite of those movements! Another key point is the influence of neural tension, and ensure you are intentional with the type of mobility exercise you are doing. There should NOT be a sensation of stretching all the way into the foot with hamstring stretching solely, because if so, you are also influencing neural tension. Be sure to avoid ankle dorsiflexion if you are JUST trying to stretch your hamstrings. A final key point is to find what works best for you with stretching for your hamstrings! There are many body positions and ways that you can stretch, and you can be successful with all of them.

 

About The Author

Michael Lau, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer

michael lau the prehab guysMichael was born and raised in Northern California but now currently resides in Sunny SoCal ever since attending the University of California, Los Angeles as an undergraduate majoring in physiology. After his undergraduate studies, he received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from cross-town rival the University of Southern California. As a licensed physical therapist with a strong background in strength and conditioning, Michael likes to blend the realms of strength training and rehabilitation to provide prehab, or preventative rehabilitation, to his patients. A common human behavior is to address problems after they become an issue and far often too late, which is a reactionary approach. He believes the key to improved health care is education and awareness. This proactive approach-prehab-can reduce the risk of injuries and pain in the first place. He is a huge proponent of movement education and pain science. Clinically, he has a special interest in ACLR rehab and return to sport for the lower extremity athlete.

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Michael Lau PT, DPT, CSCS

21 Comments

  1. Luke sanders January 20, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Rather than stretching the hamstrings with a posterior pelvic tilt (putting more strain on the spine) surely the answer to this question is that it is normal if your calves are you tightest area, work on your calf flexibility?

    • Michael January 25, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Luke! I made a slight error when I said using a posterior pelvic tilt to stretch the hamstrings, it should be an anterior pelvis tilt.

      But yes, an anterior pelvis tilt is associated with increased lumbar lordosis. However, this is not putting any strain on the spine because there is not an axially-directed external load applied to the spine (like when performing a back squat) and this position is help for only 30 seconds (in a stretch).

      Additionally, if your calves are your tightest area, then by all means stretch them and work on calf flexibility! However, the triceps sura muscle groups is strictly in the lower shank (grastrocnemius attaches to distal medial + lateral epicondyle of the femur). So if your goal is to stretch you hamstrings, you SHOULD NOT feel a stretch in your calf. Because the hamstrings do not connect to your calf! (they insert into the head of the fibula/medial tibial tuberosity). The anatomical connection between you ankle and you hip is not your calf muscle itself, but your neurologic tissues, specifically your sciatic nerve and its nerve branches.

      • Luke Sanders January 25, 2016 at 2:35 pm

        Interesting, thanks for the reply

      • Rod Millington April 13, 2019 at 1:25 am

        Hi Michael,
        I note that in other posts you have had information about muscle slings. What is your feelings about the fascial connections between the gastrocnemius and hamstring muscles?
        I have taught my patients the exact hamstring stretch in your article for many years. However, if there are no neurological red flags, I also use fascial stretch techniques with good results.

        • Michael Lau April 21, 2019 at 12:30 pm

          I think fascial stretching is good! As long as like you said there are no neurological signs, we are all good to go!

  2. Aimee August 6, 2017 at 4:59 am

    Quick question: if the “semis” cause internal rotation, why is it that my textbook suggests “hip flexion, knee extension and internal rotation of the hip” to stretch them? Surely external rotation would better stretch them, to oppose the action? I’m confused? :/

    • Michael Lau August 11, 2017 at 8:05 am

      You are correct. To hit the medial HSs (semimembranosus and semitendinosus) you would want to externally rotate the femur. To hit the lateral HS (biceps femoris) you would want to internally rotate the femur. Not sure why it says otherwise in your book!

  3. Youssef October 26, 2018 at 4:14 am

    This page just changed everything for me. It validated what I have been feeling and telling others for so long. I’m a young doctor and I just knew that I shudnt be feeling this seemingly neurogenic pain whenever I tried to stretch my hamstrings. I’m so grateful THANK YOU!

    • Michael Lau November 10, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Happy to have provided some insight!! Thanks for reading!

    • Steve Turland September 30, 2019 at 8:49 am

      I have just seen your post Youssef, having been experiencing a similar set of symptoms. If I’m to put my leg up on a box slightly lower down than the chair I’m sitting on I feel this sharp neurogenic pull behind my knee. As such if I ever try to do a hamstring stretch with straight leg that its where I feel the intense pull first. I manage to stretch my hamstrings my pulling the hip in first whilst lying on my back and then beginning to straighten the lower leg, but ultimately I’m hoping I may be able to solve this neurological issue. I have been advised previously by a physio to try ‘flossing’ the nerve, but have not found this to cease the point at which the pain comes. I wondered if you had made any progress in this regard yourself? Thanks in advance…

  4. Lina April 16, 2019 at 2:53 am

    Im practicing the back pain recovery program and last week started the nerve tensioners so on my back i lift my leg and as soon as i do dorsiflexion i feel burning or streching pain on my ankle above the bony part. So should i continue with the nerve tensioners or what should i do instead? Thank you!!

    • Michael Lau April 21, 2019 at 12:31 pm

      Hi Linda! For questions related directly to the program, please email us directly in the future! Make sure you have done the sliders first. If you have and you are working on your tensioners, stop right before you feel it in your ankle. So that might mean not fully dorsiflexing your ankle. Hope that helps and you’re enjoying the program!

  5. David Dorenfeld November 19, 2019 at 7:07 pm

    Interesting and useful info. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Billy walmsley April 5, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Hi, thanks for the info..how do you treat the restriction on your nerves to allow them to slide properly instead of just avoiding the stretch?

    Hope that makes sense

    Thank you

  7. Dr Richard Harvey .. sports physician May 1, 2020 at 2:16 am

    Over the years I have found gentle rhythmic sciatic nerve flossing for a minute or so greatly assists in subsequent hamstring stretching . The theory being that the hamstrings often stay tight to protect a tight sciatic nerve ., so gently move the nerve first . Sciatic nerve flossing/ mobilisation will also eliminate restless legs if done prior to going to bed .

    • Michael Lau June 3, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      Love that and totally agree! The body and nervous system loves to guard so that definitely needs to be addressed!

  8. Tanna Payne November 14, 2020 at 8:04 am

    Thank you so much for all of this!

    Here’s my dilemma…. when I do any type of hamstring stretch, if my toes are pointing inward…. totally fine… if my toes are pointed outward, major pain.

    “Stiff” DLs with my toes slightly pointed out is so painful and the range of motion is highly restricted…. and it’s only my left side.

    No one has been able to help…. any guidance would be super great.

    • Michael Lau November 16, 2020 at 10:43 am

      Hey tanna! Unfortunately, we can’t legally diagnose anything over the internet like this! Know this though, that when you point your toes in or our you are just biasing stretching a different parts of the hamstrings…so likely it means your inner hamstring (semimembranosus) may need some love! We have a hamstring prehab program that likely can help with this, check it out here for more info! https://theprehabguys.com/program-hamstring-prehab/

  9. Colin March 29, 2021 at 1:46 pm

    Hi I’m researching arch. Cramping and ball of foot pain – could tightness in the hams lead to cramping in the arch ?

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