"My hamstrings are always tight." Is this you? Maybe it's someone you know, or multiple people you know.
Tightness in your hamstrings can manifest in a number of ways. It might be just the constant feeling of tightness, you might suffer from recurrent hamstrings injuries, maybe you regularly suffer from cramping in your hamstrings, particularly at night.
People suffering hamstring tightness will probably try treatments aimed to loosen tight muscles. For example hamstring stretches, regular massages, foam rolling, acupuncture and/or kinesiology taping. If despite all this you're continuing to experience tightness in your hamstrings then you'll probably find there's more to your tight hamstrings than simply tight hamstrings.
What else can cause tightness in the hamstrings?
The first thing to remember is that the sensation of a tight muscle is related to, but separate from the actual length of the muscle. I've seen people who complain of hamstring tightness that can touch their palms to the floor with their knees straight, and people who think their hamstrings are fine that can barely touch their knees.
As well as muscle length, the sensation of muscle tightness is influenced by a muscle's resting tone, local nerve activity, nerve irritation, muscle fatigue and potentially referred pain from elsewhere in the body. Also muscle length is influenced by biomechanics and joint ranges of motion.
How does all this apply to the hamstrings?
The hamstrings might actually have reduced length if a past knee injury prevents you from being able to fully straighten your knee, or if you spend prolonged periods of time in sitting with your knees bent and your lower back in a slouched posture.
The hamstrings might feel tight as a result of irritation of the sciatic nerve and/or referred pain from the lower back or hip.
The hamstrings might feel tight due to increased resting tone and/or muscle fatigue due to being overworked. A common reason why your hamstrings might be overworked is if your glute max is week. The hamstrings mainly flex the knee, but also have some ability to extend the hip. If your glute max is week then your hamstrings will have to do more work to assist the glute max in its role.
Biomechanical issues that may contribute to a feeling of hamstring tightness include a tendency to drop your pelvis and internally rotate your hip (due to glute med weakness) which will load certain parts of your hamstrings over others, also adopting a lower back extension posture during walking, running etc, increases the load on the hamstrings because they are more lengthened during these tasks.
If you have a tightness in your hamstrings that isn't going away despite stretching, massage, kinesiology taping, acupuncture etc, then it would definitely be worth having a physiotherapist perform a thorough assessment to determine what might be contributing and develop a plan to deal with the causes. This is particularly true if you suffer recurrent hamstring injuries.
For help with your treatment of tight hamstrings come see our friendly physiotherapist in Aubin Grove.