Do you suffer from chronically tight hamstrings?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Do you suffer from chronically tight hamstrings?

No matter how much you stretch, it never gets any easier to touch your toes. Even after a painfully deep massage on those rigid hamstrings you barely see an improvement, and if you do it is only short-lived. Does this sound familiar? This, my friend is a battle against your own nervous system and the truth is, there is only ever going to be one winner in this situation.

Don’t get me wrong, stretching is a highly important part of maintaining physical health in general and is something that should be done mindfully and regularly. It’s just that sometimes stretching just doesn’t work to release tight muscle. Massage too is a fantastic therapeutic intervention, and one of the most wonderfully satisfying ways of breathing new life into tired, restricted and hypertonic musculature. But again, sometimes you just can’t get the result…

The human nervous system has a phenomenal healing capacity, much more than we often give it credit for. In fact, the times that we berate it the most is when it is in actuality, protecting us from a much worse fate. The truth is that to function to its full capacity, the human body needs stability, and when that stability is present, our nervous system will naturally allow us as much range of movement as we need.

So…back to those hamstrings. The ‘core’ of the body is where we need stability the most, and where good muscle activation is vital. From the flexion of a contracting psoas, and the thrust of good gluteal function, this core forms the initiation of the most vital and basic of all movements- walking forwards. Without these basic functions in place the body if forced to look elsewhere firstly for stability, so, when this becomes a priority over range of movement we get a purposeful stiffening of certain muscles (in this case the ‘troublesome’ hamstring) to make up for this instability. Secondly the movement side will also have to become a compensation, and in place of the thrusting gluteus maximus creating extension through the hip, we have a tired and tight hamstring working in tandem with lower back muscles to create this auxiliary movement pattern.

Now we can see that without this tightening of the hamstrings we are left open not only to a much more serious injury we would barely be able to generate the power to walk up a flight of stairs. We can also see that constantly trying to release these muscles without addressing the issues of muscle activation and core stability, is pretty much like trying to kick away your own crutches. Once we start working with the nervous system and not against it we can see dramatic and powerful results in literally seconds. How amazing does that sound? That is exactly what I achieve with my clients on a daily basis, using techniques that activate muscles and allow the nervous system to ‘turn off’ it’s damage limitation and auxiliary movement features.

By Alex Boylan

Alex is one of Manchester’s leading physical therapists and uses muscle activating techniques as a foundation for treating all manner of chronic and acute physical ailments.

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