One of the most common things that I hear people say, is that they have tight hamstrings. They usually go on to say that when they stretch their hamstrings, their back pain gets less, but they don’t do it because they feel like they have to do it all the time to get any results. Does this sound familiar? Many of these people also say that one side always seems to be tighter than the other, or that no matter how much they stretch, the hamstrings don’t seem to get any looser. If this sounds like you, keep reading because we’re going to explain exactly why this is happening to you, and what you can do to fix it without having to stretch 3 times a day for eternity.

In this post you will learn:

  • The difference between tight hamstrings and short hamstrings
  • Why hamstrings get tight
  • How tight hamstrings contribute to low back pain
  • The answer to solving  years of tight hamstrings…finally!

find out why hamstrings get tight

The Difference Between Tight Hamstrings and Short Hamstrings

The key to understanding the difference between tight and short muscles is knowing that your muscles are not very smart. They do what they’re told, and the brain is the one in charge. Your brain is constantly aware of where your body is in space and trying to keep you stable. For example, when walking through beach sand, your brain tells your ankles, knees, and hips how to behave to stay balanced.  If your brain feels like your body is unstable, it will call in extra muscles to help improve that stability. So it will tighten big muscles that are typically only used for large movements. This is how you get the “tight muscles” versus “short muscles.” Well, what is a short muscle then? This may be the case if a muscle has been tight, or put in a shortened position, for so long that the body adapts to having a shorter muscle. The easiest way to think about this is when people wear high heels. If done daily for a long period of time, the calf muscle will gradually shorten.

Therefore, in order for one of your hamstrings to be shorter (instead of tighter) than the other, you would have to be sitting for 12 hours a day with one knee bent under your chair and the other outstretched in front of you. Now, onward to why hamstrings get tight!

the doctors of physical therapy back pain book cover


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Why Hamstrings Get Tight

Your hamstrings are typically tight because other muscles are not doing their job. The body has really tiny muscles inside the hip. See the picture below to get a visual on these little heroes. Do you see how the big green bone (your femur) fits into the side of the pelvis like a ball? This makes the joint very unstable. These little highlighted muscles are supposed to fasten that ball firmly into the socket. When they don’t, the hamstrings try to pull upwards to stabilize the joint. 

Deep hip muscles

Our Joints Need Stability

Your next logical question might be “Well, why aren’t those muscles doing their job?” The answer is pretty straight forward. We spend most of our day going forwards when we move. We don’t really spend a lot of time going sideways or rotating, which is exactly what these muscles are for. Over time, you develop an imbalance between these small stabilizers and the big movers. So the brain starts using the big movers for stability AND movement. This leads to the hamstrings being overused and feeling tight. 

Stretching tight hamstrings will NEVER work because they are tight for a reason, to give stability. Now that you know why hamstrings get tight, read on to find out how it causes low back pain and how to fix it!

Why Tight Hamstrings Contribute to Low Back Pain

When your hamstrings are always tight, they pull on your pelvis. They make you round your lower back with you’re bending over to pick something up, or look in the fridge. This puts a lot of tension on the muscles in the lower back, which can lead to muscle strain, compression between the joints. This can cause a variety of things to happen which can result in disc problems and/or sciatica. If you’re really curious you can read up on disc bulges and herniations here or learn about sciatica here

The Answer To Solving Years of Tight Hamstrings…Finally!

How mad would you be if I told you to go stretch your hamstrings after knowing what you know now? Here’s the great news, we have helped thousands of people get rid of back pain without stretching their hamstrings. It all starts with those small muscles in the back of your hip. You have to strength train these little muscles until they catch up to the big ones that are doing their job. Then, and ONLY then, will your hamstrings start to wave the white flag.

How to Get Started

In order to strengthen these guys we’re hooking you up with one of the #1 exercises we use in our physical therapy clinic in Scottsdale to start you off. For this exercise, watch video #1 below. You’ll also experience faster relief if you download a copy of our free report below and start implementing some of the tips in there.

Give this a shot for a couple of weeks, and if you’re still experiencing issues give us a call. There are 45 muscles that attach to your pelvis, any one of them can over compensate for the others. Sometimes people need a more individualized approach, and we have seen this approach work for people who have had issues for well over 5, 10, or 25 years. Best of luck to you and let us know if we can be of assistance!