Tried to take a step, but your tight hamstrings are screaming?
If your hammies feel super tight, here are some potential causes. Plus, how to relieve tight hamstrings with the right stretches.
Hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run down the back of your legs from butt to knee, including:
- biceps femoris
So, when your hamstrings are tight, you’ll prob notice that any of these movements can cause strain or limit your movement. They might also feel stiff or not very flexible.
According to one small 2019 study, hamstring shortening or tightness can also cause posture issues and muscle pain. A small 2015 study also found that increased hamstring stiffness could up the chance of low back injury.
Sometimes, tight hammies can come with other symptoms like:
You prob won’t notice your tight hammies until you take a break for a bit. Like after lying on the couch or when you wake up the next morning after working out.
Too much exercise
Exercise — or another form of physical activity — can cause tight hamstrings, especially if it’s more intense than your usual. Whether you just went on a jog for the first time in years (respect!) or you took your training to new heights, that’ll def do it.
Exercises that put a lot of strain on your hammies can cause tightness. Moves like hamstring curls or playing sports like soccer can really get those muscles working.
Not enough exercise
That being said, you can also get tight hamstrings from just… sitting there. (Relatable in the WFH-era.)
Think of your hamstring muscles like rubber bands. When you’re sitting at your desk all day, they’re slack. When you finally get up and they stretch out for the first time in a *minute,* they might start giving you trouble.
These injuries can range from mild (a pull or strain) to severe (a complete muscle tear).
Here are the most basic hamstring stretches you can do every day. If you feel any sharp pain, stop right there. Only go as far as you need to feel your muscles loosening up.
Supine hamstring stretch
- Lie on your back with legs extended.
- Slightly bend the left leg and place your hands behind the left thigh.
- Slowly straighten the left leg as you pull it toward you and as you flex your heel to the sky. Stop when you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh.
- Hold for 30 seconds. Slowly lower the left leg and repeat on the other side.
Standing hamstring stretch
- Stand and place your right leg slightly in front of you on the heel.
- Bending your left knee slightly, gently lean forward with a straight back (avoid hunching over). Place your hands on your right thigh for stability.
- Hold for 10–30 seconds. Slowly stand up straight and repeat on other side.
Seated hamstring stretch
- Start in a seated position with your right leg straight. Bend your left leg, so the bottom of your foot is resting against your inner right thigh.
- Bend forward at your waist, reaching for your right foot’s toes. Go as far as you can to feel the stretch in the back of your thigh, but it shouldn’t hurt.
- Hold for 10–30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Stretching can be especially effective when your muscles are warm: either after you work out or in a heated area.
Here’s how to do it
- Sit on the ground with the foam roller under your right thigh. Keep your left foot on the ground for support.
- With your arms behind you, roll out your hamstring and the whole back of your thigh, butt to knee.
- Keep your core engaged, so your spine is straight while rolling.
- Keep it up for about 30 secs–2 mins.
- Repeat on the opposite leg.
Keep it up at least 3 times a week to find relief.
Hot or cold therapy
A good ol’ hot or cold pack can help reduce swelling and pain. You can also hop in a warm bath to unwind and relieve tense muscles.
OTC pain relief
Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatories can help ease pain until your muscles heal. Topical pain relievers like Icy Hot also might help.
Massage therapy is another solid option for chronic hamstring tightness. A licensed massage therapist can target the right muscles and soft tissues needed to loosen the hamstrings.
Manipulating the muscles and soft tissues in the hamstrings and surrounding area can relieve stress, pain, and muscle tension.
If your tight hammies persist despite stretching and foam rolling, physical therapy could help.
A physical therapist can check for underlying causes like injuries or repeated movements. They can recommend specialized stretches, exercises, or techniques to treat the tension and tightness.
If the root cause is an injury, a period of rest may be necessary to recoup. A mild strain may only take a few days to recover from, while a tear could take weeks or months. If you think your muscle is torn, call a healthcare professional.
Get started by hitting up a class or trying the following:
- Downward Dog
- Extended Triangle Pose
- Standing Forward Bend
- Standing Wide-Legged Forward Bend
- Seated Forward Fold
Strengthen your leg muscles
Strengthening the leg muscles can help prevent tight muscles down the road. To get strong and keep hamstring tightness at bay, try the following:
Move your body
Time to move it, move it. Even if you have to sit at a desk all day, take frequent breaks to prevent tight, achy muscles.
Most of the time, tight hams can be treated at home with some light stretching. The tension will also typically fade on its own over time.
If your hamstring tightness is chronic or prevents you from doing regular activities, though, seek support. A physical therapist can help you pinpoint the prob and reduce tension.
If the tightness occurs alongside other symptoms, you may want to seek help from a healthcare professional. These symptoms include:
- intense pain
- muscle weakness
- probs walking or standing
- swelling or tenderness
- bruising or discoloration
- a popping or tearing sensation
These symptoms might indicate an injury or another underlying issue, especially if you’ve recently experienced an accident or fall.
Tight hamstrings can often be treated at home with stretching, light exercise, hot and cool compresses, and OTC pain relievers. If you’ve had an injury, you may need to rest up until the muscles heal.
Most of the time, the prob will resolve on its own. If it doesn’t, or if you also experience other symptoms like intense pain or swelling, call a healthcare pro. They may also refer you to a physical therapist.