Where are your hamstrings, and what do they do?
Your hamstrings are found on the back of the upper leg. They are used to pull your foot toward your gluteus maximus, or ‘butt’, in easier to understand terms.
They cross two joints and have two functions.
1. They are used in hip extension. While standing, make sure your leg is straight and pull it back. Both your glutes and hamstrings will be involved in the movement.
2. Knee flexion. While standing, simply unlock your knee and pull your foot upwards.
The name comes from the German word, Hamme (back of the leg) and the Latin word, Stringare (to pull together). Just in case you were wondering if there was a link between ham and the muscle.
Running from the ischial tuberosity (also known as your sit bones in cycling circles) to the outside of your knee is the biceps femoris muscle.
Running from the ischial tuberosity to the inside of your knee are the semitendinosus and semimembranosis muscles.
Stretching the muscle.
The most well known stretch is that of touching your toes. Two points about this stretch.
1. Avoid if you have lower back issues.
2. I remember in my school days teachers helping kids touch their toes by pushing their heads down until they managed to get fingers on toes. This had two negative effects, firstly through a wall of searing pain the pupil would decide that he/she hated stretching and would never stretch again. Secondly, an overstretched muscle sends a message to the brain that it is worried that it is about to tear, and as a result the brain sends a message back to the muscle instructing it to shorten and thus protect itself. Our unsupple student has been left even less supple than before the ‘stretch’.
So, here are a couple of stretching ideas. Remember to gently stretch the muscle. I don’t believe in going past a 5/10 pain point.
Most of us sit too much. As a result we leave the muscle in a shortened position for too long. Added to that, many like sleeping on their sides, which also leaves the muscle in a shortened position. Most people that complain of lower back pain have shortened hammies.
The muscle can tighten in all three of the swim, bike and run disciplines.
Cyclists need to be especially careful, as tightened hams will pull the hips back and get you feeling that the bike has lengthened during the ride.
Things that can go wrong.
- Compartment syndrome. This is unusual and needs medical attention. Basically the muscle involved gets too big for the sheath that covers it.
- Hamstring strain – mild – grade 1. Slightly pulled muscle. No tearing, no loss of strength.
- Hamstring strain – moderate – grade 2. Tearing of fibers of muscle or tendon with diminished strength.
- Hamstring rupture – severe – grade 3. Severe strains might need surgical repair.
Most of these injuries as a triathlete will occur from overuse with a smaller percentage taking place from a sudden force going through the muscle.
Most light grade strains should get better in a few days.
The muscle responds well to massage and kinesiology tape. Give us a call, we are here to help in that regard.
Look after the group of muscles. They work really hard for you and only ask for a bit of rest, a few minutes stretching per week and a monthly massage. Neglect or even worse abuse them, and expect a strained muscle and potential back and/or knee problems.