The impact of tight hamstrings on the lower back

Fred Bender | | comments: 0

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Tight hamstrings limit forward bending. When one wishes to bend further forward than the hamstrings allow, many compensate by overstretching their spine and straining their backs. By lengthening the hamstrings, one reduces this risk.

Hamstring anatomy and action


The hamstrings are three muscles that originate together on the hip at a the ischial tuberosity. The muscles continue along the femur before the different muscle bellies branch off, cross the knee joint and insert onto the tibia and fibula bones of the lower leg.

As the hamstrings cross two joints (the hip and knee), they have an effect on both. When the hamstrings contract, their primary action is to flex (or bend) the knee. A secondary action is to assist in extending the hip. So to lengthen the hamstrings, we do the opposite: we extend (or straighten) the knee and flex the hip.

In the leg sequence of our lower back yoga class, we start with practices to warm up the hamstrings before stretching them fully and in a supine position to limit risk of compression to the lumbar discs.

hamstring stretch for back painback pain relief

In both practices above, the knees are straight, not bent, and the hips are flexed, not extended, thereby lengthening the hamstring muscles all while the lower back remains in a safe supine position with floor support. These simple stretches will enable freer movement of the pelvis, thereby reducing stress on the lumbar vertebrae in forward bending.

A note for those with knee problems

During the hamstring stretches, if you can straighten the knee, please do so, but the knee should not be locked nor hyperextended. In the first practice above, you can keep the knee “soft” while the femur and tibia form a straight line.

Some people have difficulty straightening the knee. Straightening should not be forced as one must honor the limitations within the joint capsule. For the first practice above, a cloth belt or elastic band is used to allow the leg to remain further away from the body which makes it easier to straighten the knee. However, if straightening is still not possible, continue with the knee slightly bent. Another option is to lie within a doorway with one leg up against the door frame and the other down on the floor through the doorway. As the hamstrings of the leg on the door frame relaxes into the length, you can gradually inch closer to the door frame.

For the second practice above, one lies against a wall with a pleasant passive stretch on the hamstrings. However, if the knees cannot straighten, simply move slightly away from the wall to make it easier for the knees to straighten. The idea is to remain comfortable while gently lengthening the hamstrings over an extended period of time.

Take a free class

We have a free 10-minute Floor class iphone app that plays 7 practices of our lower back class along with an in-app option to take a 3-month subscription of 7 classes at 0.99, including the Full Back Class of 28 practices given for 17 years at our center, the European Court of Justice and a few centers internationally. Preview the free app below.


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Other blog posts:

Bending with back pain
Stabilize your lumbar vertebrae during abdominal strengthening
A breathing exercise for back pain

The third main area that we focus on in the online lower back yoga class is hip opening. A post on that is upcoming. To stay informed, please visit and like our Facebook page.

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Image Sources: Forward bending illustrations

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