Low back pain is second only to the common cold for work related absences in the United States. An estimated 50 billion dollars is spent each year trying to treat this ailment. Common complications include terms like siatica, nerve impingement, and disc herniations. Tight hamstrings don’t cause lower back pain, but could they making it worse?
The hamstrings are a group of 3 muscles on the back of the upper leg bone (femur). They are called the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris muscles. Specifically these muscles originate in the area of the buttocks and attach to the backside of the lower leg. The hamstring functions to bend the knee, extend the hip, and support normal posture. The curvature of the lower back is called the lordosis. The lordosis makes the backside of the pelvis slightly higher than the front. A tightening of the hamstrings will pull the pelvis forward flattening this normal lordosis. This “hypolodosis”, or straightened spine, cannot hold the body upright against gravity. The constant pulling by these now shortened muscles puts pressure on the bones of the lower back and the shock-absorbing discs in between them. The back and hamstring muscles lose strength from constantly straining over a prolonged period of the time. They will fatigue, become weak and muscular imbalance will occur. The patients musculoskeletal frame will deteriorate allowing the lower back (lumbar) and vertebrae to move out of position (subluxation) causing disc bulging and pinched nerves. A perfect example of how all of this starts is you sitting at your desk, leaning forward, reading this article on your computer.
The solution? According to a study in The Journal of Sports Medicine, the answer is stretching. The March 2006 research article compared men with chronic pain to men without pain. The chronic group was found to have abnormally weak and tight hamstring muscles after performing a series of back extension exercises. The author’s conclusions were that the back extensions muscles were chronically weak along with the hamstring muscles. Essentially, the chronic back pain group was not able to bend backwards due to the weaknesses. Even more astounding was the observation that tightness was found in their quadricep muscles. These are the big muscles in the front of the leg. When the hamstrings and the lower back muscles cannot assist in stabilization, the quadriceps will tighten to prevent you from falling backwards.
In conclusion, weak hamstrings, weak back muscles, and tight quadricep muscles all pull the pelvis downward. If this is happening to you, this increases the likelihood of you becoming one of the estimated 255 million Americans to suffer from debilitating back pain.
For those of you wondering why I chose to omit the abdominal muscles in their importance for lower back stabilization, most of you know it is a foregone conclusion. From a previous Health Newsletter, 40% of the stress is relieved from the lower back if you have a flat stomach. The purpose of this article, however, is not for you to go out and do 1000 sit ups. It is to stretch and strengthen the muscles of the upper thigh. For a list of quadriceps and hamstring muscles stretches contact firstname.lastname@example.org