Everyone from runners to swimmers, cyclists, and more can feel hamstring tightness from time to time. You may even get a feeling of tightness by simply walking up and down the stairs or sitting in a certain position for a period of time. This feeling can range from being unpleasant and nagging to downright painful and even debilitating.
Many people who experience this pain may try to stretch out the muscle for relief. However, this tight sensation, which can extend from your lower legs to your back, is not always caused by tight muscles.
Stretching out the tightness may not always the best solution. In fact, it can actually make the problem worse in some cases. With a closer look at the symptoms, causes and potential solutions, you can take steps to alleviate and even prevent this painful symptom.
Common Causes of Tight Hamstrings
Muscle tension can cause tightening of your hamstrings. This is most commonly a result of overuse during —or inadequate stretching before— an intense workout. Sitting, standing, kneeling, or staying in the same position for extended periods may also cause hamstring tightness. Additionally, protective tension related to the regular tilt of your pelvis, pressure on your spinal column related to the placement of your discs, a previous muscle injury, or even tendinosis may lead to the sensation of having tight hamstrings.
As you can see, there are many reasons your hamstrings may feel tight and sore. And not all of them are related to muscle tension. Each of these conditions may have different treatment options that work well to address the specific cause. Treatments can range from pain medications and therapy to surgery.
When looking for options, it’s important to know that some treatments may actually worsen your condition, depending on the cause. It is wise to seek professional diagnosis if you have nagging or recurring pain or tightness in your hamstrings. Avoid diagnosing the issue on your own and haphazardly trying out different treatments to see what works best.
Signs and Symptoms of Hamstring Tightness
Understanding the symptoms of hamstring tightness and related issues help you determine when to seek a medical diagnosis and treatment plan.
Common sensations people experience are tightness and pain in the back of the calf. In some cases, this can run from the ankle up to your lower back. In other cases, the pain may be localized. It may also be mild or very severe.
When feeling your calf muscle, you may notice that they are stiff or even warmer than the rest of your body. Some people get cramps that are similar to Charley horses when their muscle tightens, and these cramps may last for several minutes or longer.
In the case of a true muscle strain or tendinosis, you may notice a large and deep bruise on the back of your lower leg. Other people also report a level of stiffness rather than a pain in their hamstring muscle when they describe the tightness.
Remember, you do not need to have all these symptoms to have an issue with your hamstring. In fact, many people only complain of one or two of these symptoms when they seek treatment from a doctor.
How to Prevent and Alleviate Hamstring Tightness
Determining the cause of your pain is the best way to determine the most appropriate treatment option. Consider that some treatments, such as excessive stretching, may work well if you have a truly tight muscle. However, if you have a strain, this can actually increase the severity of your injury. Therefore, talk to your doctor about the proper treatment that is suitable for your condition.
If you have a previous injury, follow all physical therapy recommendations before you start working out again. Stretching regularly before and after a workout can reduce or eliminate some hamstring complaints. Improving your posture to address the issue of poor body mechanics can also give relief and help you avoid further pain and suffering.
For some individuals with slipped disc or a misaligned spinal column, back surgery may be required for permanent pain relief.
It may be easy to categorize all hamstring pain into a condition known as hamstring tightness, but you are now aware that hamstring tightness is not actually a condition or diagnosis. Instead, it is a symptom or sensation that may be caused by a wide range of conditions.
You should take steps to properly care for this symptom at home for a few days. In some cases, you may rest and lightly stretch the muscle for substantial relief. Avoid excessive or deep stretching until you know the cause of your pain and tightness. If the sensation persists or is severe, it is important to seek medical attention. When you know more about what is causing this symptom, you can take appropriate steps to correct the problem and prevent the symptom from returning.
Brent Frayser is a media relations representative for Pure Barre, who is a graduate of the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration (Major in Marketing, Minor in Management). He was born and raised in the south, is very outgoing, with a strong sense of determination. In his spare time, he enjoys: reading, writing, coaching baseball and football, and spending time with family and friends.