How to Relieve Your Sore Hamstrings

Your Personal PT, Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.

Maybe you didn’t do a proper warm up before that pick up football game or you just kicked a ball for the first time in years. Perhaps you bent down a little too fast during a deadlift, or went all out a little too quickly while out for a run. Whatever the reason, you’re now stuck with tightness in the back of your thigh and you’re not sure what to do about it.

A sore hamstring can happen to anyone. The hamstrings are one of the largest muscle groups in the body and are used frequently with many different types of workouts, from HIIT, cardio and even strength and power exercises. The hamstrings are comprised of the biceps femoris (long and short heads), semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. These muscles work together to extend the hip, bend the knee, and slow down and control opposite movements dominated by the quadriceps muscles.

Muscle imbalances, poor form, and improper preparation can all lead to injury. The most common sites of pain are either at the muscle belly in the middle, bottom of the thigh, or at the proximal tendinous junction where the muscle meets the ischial tuberosity, a.k.a. the “sit bone” (if you sit on your hands and tile back and forth, you’ll feel them).

Sore hamstrings can literally be a huge pain in the butt. They are notoriously slow to heal, so you’ll want to handle them with care. You might feel pain sitting, walking, or during any daily activity that lengthens or stretches the hamstring muscles. If not addressed properly, what begins as “soreness” can become a more sharp and uncomfortable pain. So you’ll want to nip this in the bud before it starts to feel even worse.

Your Move: Work some dynamic stretches into your routine. Try leg swings or hamstring scoops to target the sore muscles before an active workout, like a run. Incorporate low resistance deadlifts—both bilateral and unilateral—into your lifting regimen, slowly increasing the weight. This eccentrically loads the hamstrings, a type of exercise that promotes strengthening the muscle while allowing the tissue to heal.

You can also use bridge walkouts to isometrically activate and engage the hamstrings. To do this, begin on your back with your knees bent. Lift the hips up into a “bridge” and hold for 10 seconds. While keeping the hips elevated, walk your hips out a few inches and hold for 10 seconds again. Repeat this pattern, slowly walking the feet out slightly further for three to four positions, holding each one for 10 seconds before resting the hips back down onto the floor.

To prevent injury, avoiding over stretching the hamstrings and doing too much exercise before a dynamic warm up. If you feel pain when you carry out simple daily tasks such as walking or bending, try icing the painful area and gently foam rolling the sore spot for about a minute. If pain lasts more than a few days or gets worse, see a PT or MD for next steps.

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