Stretching Your Hamstrings May Be Making Your Lower Back Pain Worse

Every year, hundreds of patients visit our office for help with their lower back pain.  The source of their pain varies, yet they are all taking nearly the same approach to self-treat.  The approach is stretching the hamstrings.

It piques our interest when we see such a large percentage trying the wrong thing to help them.  We are going to attempt to understand why people often self-treat with stretching first and then attempt to explain why 80+% of people with lower back pain should actually AVOID stretching their hamstrings.  It’s a short blogpost, so here goes…

Why are my hamstrings so tight?

When a muscle is tight, human beings jump to one solution-stretching.  We certainly can appreciate the simplicity of this logic, but more often than not it is overly simplistic and not accurate.

“Stretching your hamstrings to help acute lower back pain is analogous to picking a scab to help it heal.  Chances are it’s going to be counter-productive.”  -Dr. Yost

Of course, your hamstrings feel tight when you have lower back pain-that is a common, intentional and protective response by the body.  The human body is smart enough to know what movements will potentially aggravate your condition further.  In 80+% of lower back pain patients (we see) the lower back muscles and hamstrings tighten up to protect a component of the spine.  Your body knows that forward bending (even from slouched sitting) will aggravate your symptoms, so it tightens your back muscles and hamstrings in an attempt to say “don’t do that.”  A good term in the literature is “protective tension.”  The muscles are forming a sort of natural splint to reduce the motion that got you into that mess.

Part of successful treatment is showing patients what to do to help them, but maybe even a more important part is showing them what not to do-or at least suggesting a modification.  To reduce the risk of further injury, stretching should be avoided until you can accomplish the following:

  1. Identify the cause of the pain (pain generator)-is the source of pain a muscle, nerve, disc, joint, ligament, tendon, bone, etc.
  2. Identify the movements that will aggravate the pain generator
  3. Identify the movements that will help the pain generator

Once these 3 questions can be answered, our treatment is designed to help you accelerate the recovery process to get you back to the activities you love and reduce your risk of future episodes.

Our Cincinnati chiropractors do not take a cookie-cutter approach and you shouldn’t either.  Rather than take Dr. Google’s shotgun approach without ever being asked a question, we suggest you schedule a complimentary phone consultation with one of our doctors.  At the end of the day, they are both free.

Free Consultation