So, you have lower back pain and are wondering if your tight hamstrings are an aggravating factor in your lower back pain (read my post on tight hamstrings and lower back pain). How do you know if your hamstrings are in fact tight?
There are different postures that you can use to test your hamstring length. One way is to test your hamstring length in standing. Bend forwards and try and tough your toes. How far down can you go while you keep your feet together and your knees straight?
Alternatively, you can test your hamstring length in a position we call long sitting. Again, reach down towards your ankles/feet and see how far down you can reach while you keep your legs together and your knees straight? It’s important that when you do thee tests, that you do not stretch into pain. If you are at all concerned about your posture/hamstring length/lower back pain, go see your OMT trained physiotherapist. They are especially equipped to help you.
Now that you’ve tested your hamstring length, your next question should be: What is normal hamstring length? Well, actually, that is quite debatable. What is normal for some people can be very different for others. For example, some people can easily reach their ankles, whereas others can’t get below mid shin level or even their knees. So, how do you know if you have tight hamstrings and whether they are contributing to your lower back pain?
Your hamstrings are too tight, when your lower back curve is flattened when you perform your regular activities such as sitting at your desk, driving your car (read my post on driving posture and lower back pain), playing your sport and generally carrying on with your daily life.
The next consideration you need to make is how do you stretch your hamstrings effectively, especially if you have lower back pain? I am personally not a great fan of passive stretches. Often people take the stretch too far and hurt the muscle, actually causing more muscle spasm and shortening. This is counterproductive.
Another consideration when stretching your hamstring is the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs through the hamstring muscle, and if your sciatic nerve is sensitised or tight for whatever reason, your hamstring muscle will stay tight no matter what you do, in order to protect the nerve.
I also believe that your stretch should be functional, and this is especially important when you are suffering from lower back pain. Standing places far less loading on the spine than sitting or long sitting (as in the stretch above). In addition, long sitting is often an aggravating posture for lower back pain for a variety of reasons, hence a posture to avoid. To assist in a better hamstring stretch, add gentle resistance while stretching, producing an active stretch so to speak.
Lastly, it’s always prudent to seek professional help when you are suffering from pain. Your OMT specialised physiotherapist are highly specialised and equipped to quickly and safely help you when you have tight hamstrings, particularly in the presence of lower back pain. They will help to uncover the real reason that your hamstrings are tight, and assist you in resolving the problem.