How can hamstring stretches help my low back pain and sciatica?

Hamstring stretches are almost always indicated for people who suffer from low back pain.

Here is an interesting question from someone who wanted to know how doing hamstring stretches (located in the back part of the upper thigh) 0could help reduce back pain.

Dr. Lumbago,

I figure with a name like Lumbago you would be the doctor to ask this question about my lumbago or low back pain which I think is the same thing.  I want to ask you about lower back stretches.

I have tried all the pain pills, Vioxx,  Celebrex and muscle relaxers that my family doctor prescribed for me over the years and none of them made much difference to how my back and leg pain feels.  Any drug that actually helped control my back pain and sciatica also made me feel like a zombie and I can’t afford to feel that way because of the kind of work I do operating cranes and earth moving heavy equipment. I was talking to one of the guys at work who has 17 years on the job and I have 22 years, and we were comparing our bad backs and I was telling him about my low back pain and how it makes my life miserable. Anyway, he told me that his chiropractor had him do something called hamstring muscle stretches twice a day and now his lower back pain is pretty much gone.  He showed me how he does them but I don’t want to do anything to make my back worse, so I am asking for you help. I looked up how to do a hamstring stretch for low back pain and was not sure I would pick the right ones to do. 

Can you explain how stretching leg muscles could help my low back?  And please give me some good stretches for tight hamstring muscles if you can.

Thank you, Dwayne H.  


Greetings Dwayne,

Hamstring stretches are importatnt to reduce excessive pulling in the low back and pelvis.Please follow this Dr. Lumbago link for specific ways to do a variety of  hamstring stretches as a great way to help your  low back pain.   Before you begin doing any of these lower back stretches  I need to tell you a few general things about relaxing and lengthening the hamstring muscles.  Once you understand how tighter and shorter than normal hamstring muscles might contribute to your ongoing low back pain you will know how important it is to correct this potential cause of your back problem. And I will briefly explain how thigh hamstring muscles of the upper leg influence the pelvis and alter posture. With this information about hamstring stretches you will be able to do a better job of relaxing and lengthening them and get better relief from your back pain.

To begin with, you have spent a good part of your life sitting for eight hours a day operating heavy equipment.  This tells me you probably have considerable tension in your low back and pelvic muscles since you are constantly moving both legs to operate the control on your machine; this puts a lot of static stress on the hamstring muscles, eventually resulting in shortening and a constant state of low grade muscle spasm in these important postural muscles. I am rather sure you are an excellent candidate to benefit from relaxation and lengthening of those muscles; even if I am wrong, no harm will come to you for doing these stretches.  You will know within a few days if this is going to help you.  Most people who need this therapy see dramatic and rapid reduction of low back pain and stiffness when these hamstring stretches are done correctly.

The hamstring muscles are a group of three big heavy muscles located on the back of each thigh.  They are attached approximately at one end from the mid and lower part of the pelvis and down to the knee at the other end.  For this reason the hamstring muscles are known as fundamental muscles of posture.

Short or tight hamstrings will have a negative impact on normal mechanics of the pelvis, legs and low back, as well as the position of the hips in relation to each other.  Because these muscles move the hips, pelvis and legs, when they become tighter and shorter than normal they will change the way the pelvis and legs move (or do not move), as well as the height of the pelvis on one side compared to the other side.  This can result in a pelvis that is tilted higher or lower on one side compared to the other, as well as stress and poor body mechanics during common activities like walking, standing, climbing stairs, getting up from a chair, bending over at the waist and similar activities.    Any abnormality of these postural muscles can lead directly or indirectly to a host of painful problems in most any part of the body.

Your hip joints should enjoy a full and natural range of movement, as well as the same normal movement for the three bones of the pelvis which have a much smaller amount of movement.  This combined pelvic and hip/leg movement is essential for the lower body to move and perform in normal, natural and pain-free way, as well as to just stand up straight and balanced. When the hamstring muscles are shortened and less flexible due to prolonged and repeated muscle spasm it results in poor body mechanics and pain due to nerve irritation.  Over time the altered hip and pelvis mechanics will further influence the spinal column that rests on top of the pelvis to also have altered and reduced movement.  And so a bad cycle of pain continues and spreads in the body.     

You must do these exercises correctly in order for them to help you.  Please read about doing each form of the hamstring stretch that is provided on the Dr. Lumbago website.  Pay attention to the details that are provided so that you do not injure yourself.  The key idea is that to effectively help tightly contracted hamstring muscles you must use a gentle or small amount of traction that is applied slowly over a prolonged time; light and easy stretching applied for a long time is much more effective than a heavy forceful stretch used for any length of time.

If you do not take care of this problem now you can count on it only worsening.  Take action to protect what you have now.  I suspect there is a good chance you have some arthritis in your back.  Doing the hamstring stretches outlined on this website can reduce the pain and limitation of arthritis, and perhaps even slow down its progression.  It is never too late to make a bad situation a little more livable.   

Good luck to you and let me know how it goes.  DL

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