In a previous blog, I talked about the fundamentals of Flexibility. In this article, I would like to focus on the back chain and mainly the hamstrings and preventative strategies for the lower back strain.
While there is now some evidence that increased core strength can be useful in both prevention and treatment of various forms of back pain and injury, there is also recent research showing that improvement in hamstring flexibility will result in better movement strategies and reduce the risk of back strain in daily life. Of course, other tight/weak muscles such as the glutes and hip flexors can participate in that as well...
What is the effect of hamstring inflexibility on the lumbar spine?
A tight (or short) hamstring may alter the biomechanical functioning of the pelvis and lumbar spine. Some recent studies looked at what is called “lumbopelvic-rhythm” and how the pelvis and lumbar spine move in relation to each other. We (the body), usually employ one of two patterns, particularly when forward bending and lifting. They are either lumbar dominant where a forward bend is achieved through flexion of the lumbar spine or pelvis dominant where a forward bend is achieved through pelvic rotation or increased hip flexion with less loss of neutral spine position.
The results of the studies showed that in flexible subjects, pelvic movement/rotation, the preferred means of movement, was dominant which conclude that improving tight hamstrings may reduce lumbar loading/flexion thereby reducing low back pain.
What does that mean?
Tight hamstrings can have a negative effect on spinal biomechanics. Movement of the pelvis on the hips should be equal to or greater than the movement of the lumbar spine in relation to the pelvis, otherwise, flexion is concentrated in the lower back which, over time, this can lead to strain and injury.
As a result, the hamstrings are often implicated in low back pain but the relationship is unclear. The research above helps to demystify the cause and effect relationship.
Stretch the hamstrings every day. (I always tell my clients that stretching is something you must do every day just like you do brush your teeth)
Learn all the correct movement patterns from your Pilates practice like hip dissociation (e.g leg circles while stabilizing your pelvis -moving the legs independently from the trunk or vice versa.)
Effective Strategies to Stretching the hamstrings:
While there are many ways to stretch your hamstrings, here is a safe, simple and effective hamstring stretch that you can do either with a partner or by yourself. At the Pilates studio, you will be guided through different exercises that suit your level of flexibility and promote a safe and practical approach to stretching the hamstrings. Some examples are the Elephant, using the reformer for dynamic hamstrings stretches, Tower bar push through on the Cadillac, and many other routines.
P.S. This routine also can stretch your calf muscles and gluts which are part of your posterior chain that needs to be released for better outcomes.
Faculty of Sports Science, Waseda University. “The effect of dynamic stretching on hamstrings flexibility with respect to the spinopelvic rhythm.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27040059
Department of Rehabilitation Science, Graduate School, INJE University, Gimhae City, Korea. “Acute effects of hamstring-stretching exercises on the kinematics of the lumbar spine and hip during stoop lifting.”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23893149
Innovations in Pilates, Hamstrings and posterior chain https://www.innovationsinpilates.com/
AMN Academy, Partner stretching