The Best Hamstring Stretches for Preventing Pain & Injury
Hamstring strains are one of the most common running-related muscle injuries. Hamstring strains are more likely if you have tight hamstrings, which also limit motion in the pelvis and place pressure on the spine. Whether training or not, frequently stretch the hamstrings to lengthen and strengthen them, and help avoid pain and injury throughout the body.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Tight hamstrings and hip flexors often occur together. The strong pull of tight hip flexors can force the spine into a forward bent posture, increasing tightness in the hamstrings. Inversely, tight hamstrings can pull the hip muscles and pelvis out of normal position, and subject the lower back to strain and injury. Standing hamstring stretches help counteract this pelvic tilt, by strengthening the hip and abdominal muscles.
To stretch, start with the legs together, standing tall and drawing the bellybutton in towards the spine to engage the lower abdomen. Inhale to lengthen the spine, then exhale, folding forward from the pelvis and lowering the torso with the legs relatively straight. Try to touch the toes, but do not strain and stop when a stretch is felt in the hamstrings. Inhale and rise up to complete the stretch, making sure to keep the legs engaged to protect the knees.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
Seated hamstring stretches allow you to maintain a neutral posture while lengthening the hamstrings. Stretching while in alignment preserves the proper curvature of the spine and helps to reduce imbalances throughout the body.
Take a seat on the floor with the back straight, preferably on soft carpet for comfort, bringing the knees to the chest. Hold your knees with your arms, placing the stomach firmly against the thighs and squeeze gently.
Once you have mastered this stretch, extend your legs straight out in front of you. Bend forward to touch your stomach against your thighs, maintaining the natural curve of the spine. Make sure that the pelvis and spine are aligned with your thighs, and lean forward to touch your feet. Extend your legs slowly inch by inch, as far and as comfortably as you can, holding for 30 seconds to a minute.
Chair Hamstring Stretch
Stretching the hamstrings on a chair with the legs placed straight out in front on another chair minimizes strain on the back, allowing you to stretch the hamstrings safely, effectively and with greater control.
Sit up tall, drawing your shoulders down from your ears, and tilt your pelvis forward. As you tilt, draw your belly button towards your thighs and reach for the toes. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and lift your torso, inhaling to come out of the stretch.
If you are comfortable in this position and are ready to take the stretch deeper, try one side at a time. To start, slowly fold yourself forward over the right leg, keeping the spine long. Place the hands at the waist or upon the left leg for stability, but try to avoid pressing into the right leg. Inhale to come out of the stretch, and repeat on the left side.
Wall Hamstring Stretch
A more advanced exercise, the wall hamstring stretch utilizes the wall for added support and stability to reduce pressure on the spine. To begin, lie on the floor and place the right foot against the wall with the left, stabilizing leg bent or straightened on the ground. Try to push the right knee straight and hold for 1–2 minutes.
If maintaining this stretch is difficult, start with a microbend in the right leg and slowly work at straightening it, or place your seat further away from the wall. Come out of the position by slowly lowering the right leg, and repeat on the left side.
Do hamstring exercises help to relieve and/or prevent low back pain for you? Tell us about your favorite stretches on our Facebook page.
About Dr. McCance
For the past two decades, Dr. Sean McCance, a board certified NYC spine surgeon, has directed one of the leading spine practices in New York, Spine Associates, including lumbar (back) & cervical (neck) injury diagnosis and surgery. Since establishing his best in class practice on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, Dr. McCance has performed over 4,000 spine surgeries, and has been recognized by his peers as one of the most accomplished spine surgeons in the field. Dr. McCance’s philosophy of direct management of each case by an expert spine surgeon, and highly personalized and comprehensive approach has made Spine Associates one of the most trusted and respected spine surgery practices in the world.