Many people complain about a general achy lower back and if you are one of them, please take note: if you have seen a doctor and gone through the basic steps to make sure your back pain is nothing structural and by that I mean no bulging disc, or herniation etc…, see if you can sit on the floor at 90 degrees making sure you are sitting up on your buttocks/glutes (sits bones) with a straight back and with both legs extended in front of you on the floor. If you can do this with ease then your hamstrings are most likely not the culprit of your back pain.
But, however, if this 90 degree position is difficult for you to get to or hold, then chances are you should keep on reading for some answers.
The hamstrings are comprised of three muscles that run from the bottom of your buttocks (glutes) to the back of your knee. They cross and assist with two joints the hip and the knee and are responsible for knee flexion, hip extension and glute strength. The hamstrings play a crucial role in many daily activities and when they are weak or tight, your movements are restricted, your posture is thrown out of alignment and you can develop back pain. You can also injure tight hamstrings while playing sports, dancing, running, driving or even bending over. Therefore, it is crucial that this set of muscles remain strong and flexible.
I have seen people with very tight hamstrings gain length and strength but the best example I can give you is this, many years ago a New Trier student was referred to me by a physician for consultation. She came in with some girdle contraption and told me that she had seen every specialist in the city and no one knew what was wrong. As you can imagine I proceeded with much caution as she was in severe back spasm 24/7. Within the first session I realized that her hamstrings were so tight that it was causing her lower back to pull and her entire alignment to be anything but neutral. After about 6 months coming twice a week she was completely pain free and was able to bend down and touch her toes with no pain at all.
Most people think that holding a position and bouncing will actually help lengthen their muscles which is a myth. Actually, The American Council on Exercise advises against bouncing in a stretch. Bouncing can tear muscle fiber and will tighten, not loosen muscles. All stretches must be done in a lengthen and hold manner. I explain to my clients that muscles are like rubber bands, if you take a rubber band and pull it in and out, it will remain the same. If you take it though, and wrap it around a big stack of papers after a bit the rubber band will become more pliable and longer.
Pilates provides a flexibility, lengthening and strengthening exercise system, popular with dancers and, increasingly, with athletes and anyone interested in fitness. With simple Pilates moves and stretches hamstrings can be lengthened and strengthened simultaneously, and the results are improved flexibility, strength of hamstrings, glutes and hips and a lot less back pain.