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Free Your Hamstrings
and Preserve Your Knees

a better way than stretching to relax your hamstrings and increase your stride -- video instruction

by +Lawrence Gold
Credentials | Publications | Personal Page
Certified Hanna Somatic Educator

F E E D B A C K

The first time (and only, many months ago, if not a few years by now) I attempted the release described on http://somatics.com/hamstrings-and-knees.htm I felt I was gaining nothing.

I didn't give it enough of a chance or attention during the movement.

Well, my hams are one of the tightest, if not the tightest, groups of muscle in my body. I've hesitated in decisions and movement long enough and today I tried the exercise again.

Tada! Such a great feeling of openness and greater ease after just the first 10 repititions.

Moving on to the other leg and will add it to my daily sequence. I'm anticipating the other versions and any other releases you already have posted and any you or I or anyone devise from now on.

Thanks, Lawrence!
David Krauss

My guess is that you've come to this page not so much to understand hamstrings and knees as to get a way to free your hamstrings. Presumably, you've already tried stretching and seen its limitations. That's good. I'm offering you something different that works better and that causes your hamstrings to stay free.

So, let's get straight to it.

This exercise comes from the program, Comforting Your S-I Joints -- Extinguishing Pains and Making Movement Easy. It's there because hamstrings tighten up in sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, and nothing seems to free them. The program straightens the sacrum so hamstrings can be lengthened. It's a "preparation and result" situation.

This is not a stretch, but a way of reprogramming muscle/movement memory. That's why it's comfortable to do and lasting. Don't turn this into a stretch or "go for that little bit extra"; that will work against you. Do it, as given.

This approach words for lingering pain from an injury. To understand more about using this approach to recover from injuries, click HERE. Different exercises and programs exist for different purposes -- freeing calves, relieving foot problems, improving breathing efficiency, preventing cramping, healing groin injuries. You can see some "proof", at the end of this entry.

Here are the sections of this entry:

  • Why Knee Pain Plagues People and How to Work a Miracle
  • Why Stretching Doesn't Work for Long (or Very Well)
  • Changing the Tension Set-Point
  • Other Somatic Education "Muscle/Movement Memory" Exercises
  • A torn meniscus (knee joint crunchiness or locking up) and chondromalacia patelli (painfully worn cartilage under the kneecap/patella) both come specifically from tight hamstrings. This entry explains how that is so and what to do, about it.

    You'll learn about a new, easier, faster, longer-lasting way to free your hamstrings without stretching to extinguish knee pain, set the stage for healing, and decrease your chance of future injury to your cartilage and tendons. SIDE-EFFECT: better agility, speed and power.


    TORN MENISCUS

    One of the hamstrings, the biceps femoris, penetrates the knee joint capsule and attaches to the meniscus. When habitually tight, that muscle prevents the meniscus from moving normally as the knee bends and straightens. The meniscus gets sandwiched between the femur and tibia and, in effect, ground to bits. The pull of the biceps femoris often tears the meniscus, in the process. Crepitis (crunching like crinkling cellophane) and arthroscopic surgery often follow.

    CHONDROMALACIA PATELLI

    The term literally means, "bad condition of the cartilage of the kneecap" (See how medical science dresses simple things up to sound impressive?). When hamstrings are habitually tight, it's impossible to straighten the knee without a little extra effort from the front thigh muscles (quadriceps femoris). Without that "little extra effort", the knee stays bent enough to buckle; no support. So, the quadriceps stay tight all the time. In the process, they jam and grind the kneecap against the joint. The result: chondromalacia patelli, a knee brace from your doctor, and maybe, surgery to "clean" the surface of the kneecap. It's a little like wiping down an engine that has too much internal wear.

    SMARTER TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Forget stretching. Forget active isolated stretching. Forget "slow" stretching. They don't work, despite their official popularity. How do we know? We know by the frequency of knee trouble among people who stretch, including professional athletes.

    THE 3 BIGGEST MISTAKES MADE BY PEOPLE
    TRYING TO GET OUT OF PAIN

    Oddly, some people actually cultivate the ability to hyperextend the backs of the legs. They consider it a point of quiet pride that they can walk on all fours, with palms touching the floor as much as the soles of their feet. One of their favorite positions, they call, "Downward Facing Dog". True.

    However, for some people who can do that, an oddity arises: By overstretching, some people lose the walking pattern of coordination between the back of one leg and the front of the other leg. It is an oddity, because they develop patterns of confusion of opposing muscles in which they seize up in a kind of moving-binding isometric exercise. They develop a muscular burn when they stand or walk that they register as pain -- an immobilizing cramp, actually. Which it is. And it's from interrupted and disorganized coordination and heightened effort.

    So mere lengthening into hyperextension is not a sufficient answer. It is, in part, a matter of length; but also, in equal part, it is a matter of coordination, reciprocity, responsiveness. Such people need to develop healthy "walking" coordination, and since the rest of this entry is about the other form of unhealthy hamstring tone, I'll direct you (if the above description -- hyperextended knees and overstretched hamstrings -- fits you) to the program, SuperWalking, which develops healthy "walking" coordination.

    On the other hand, some people's knuckles can't reach below their knees. On some level, these people feel like marionettes, caught in the pulls of their life situation, tense, never at rest. Alas, they have "rather" tight hamstrings, as if always at the ready to spring up and run.


    A SPECIAL NOTE: If you have hamstrings that just won't let go and also have pain at the groin and at the waist in the back, on one side, you may have a twisted sacrum, which causes hamstrings and psoas muscles to tighten in a way that neither stretching nor the kind of exercises featured, here, can correct. You need a special somatic education exercise program, Comforting Your S-I Joints. Read this entry to see if it describes you, and act accordingly.


    And again, alas, all kinds of problems come from "rather" (too) tight hamstrings: knee pain when or after climbing stairs, knee pain walking downhill (you know, around or in front of the kneecap), tearing of meniscal cartilage, pain under the knee cap, crepitus (crinkly cellophane in the knee), pain below the knee cap, pain behind the kneecap, and, of course, hamstring pulls and tears.

    You've seen (or been one of) those people who wear a hinged knee brace or bandage around the knee? Tight hamstrings are commonly the culprit.

    Why Knee Pain Plagues People and How to Work a Miracle

    The frequency of knee injuries among athletes, dancers, and everyone else, young or old, in any walk of life, suggests that the methods so commonly used -- and virtually institutionalized -- used to lengthen hamstrings free could, let's say, very possibly be improved.

    In this write-up, I explain how tight hamstrings contribute to knee pain and cause popping in the knee joint; and how to solve the problem of tight hamstrings.

    A Look at Your Hamstrings

    The hamstrings are the muscles that run from behind and below your knees up the backs of your thighs to your "sitbones". Soft tissue injuries, knee pain, torn menisci (the cartilage pads in your knees that cushion the bones), chondromalacia patelli (painful wearing of the cartilage behind the kneecaps), and poor posture often come from tight hamstrings. Tight hamstrings can prevent you from reaching full leg extension or from bending over completely. If you can't touch your toes or if you feel more comfortable slouching than sitting up straight, your hamstrings are probably tight.

    Tight hamstrings add to swayback by pulling the knees backward (i.e., locking the knees). As you sway forward, your spinal curves increase. If your outer hamstrings are tighter than the inner ones, your lower leg twists toe-outward. This twist at the knee joint contributes to knee pain, to knee problems when running, to ligament (e.g., ACL) injuries, and to loss of knee cartilage (and joint replacement) surgery.

    There are three hamstring muscles on the back of each thigh: two on the inside and one on the outside. They participate in the alternating, forward-and-backward movements of walking and, by turning the lower leg, adjust foot position. One of the hamstring muscles, the biceps femoris, has fibers that pass into the knee joint that attach to and position the meniscus of the knee. When tight, this hamstring muscle displaces the meniscus and makes it prone to get caught between the upper and lower leg bones, leading to popping and pain, tearing and crepitus (crunchy knee).

    Hamstring tension has far-reaching effects on movement, balance, and the health of joints.

    Why Stretching Doesn't Work for Long (or Very Well)

    For professional athletes and dancers, the standard regimen includes stretching. Standard stretching. You know the routine -- calves, quads..... And they attempt to stretch their hamstrings. And in some measure, they succeed . . .

    . . . temporarily -- which is one reason why so many professional athletes (and dancers) suffer pulled hamstrings and knee injuries.

    Your Experience

    As anyone who has had someone stretch their hamstrings for them knows, stretching hamstrings this way is an ordeal to be tolerated. Then, they're a bit shaky, which they may interpret as "loose" and think, "a good thing." Stretching the hamstrings disrupts their natural coordination with the quadriceps muscles, which is why ones legs feel shaky after stretching those hamstrings.

    It is to our good fortune that researchers in a long-standing tradition of somatic educators (as far back as 1880) ultimately arrived at an understanding of muscle tone and of resting muscle tone and of ways of improving self-regulation of muscle tone.

    Here's where we have a new insight into the situation. Stretch? or Relax? If you think you know the answer, there's something more.

    Hamstrings that need stretching are, obviously, too short. Why is that? How is that? Simple: those muscles are holding tension -- that is, contracting. The person is holding tense by habit, unconsciously. Oddly enough, if he or she tries to relax, (s)he is likely to find that (s)he cannot; (s)he may then assume that the muscles are completely relaxed and need stretching and go looking for someone to stretch her. Or him.

    She doesn't realize she's contracting those muscles "on automatic", caught in postural habits stored in her central nervous system -- memories of how to feel and how to behave.

    Any attempt to stretch her simply re-triggers her impulse to re-contract to restore the sense of what is "familiar" or "safe".

    That is why hamstrings (and other muscles) tighten up again so soon after stretching or massage. Better results come by changing the person's "set-point" -- their sense of what "relaxed" is.

    Changing the Resting Tension Set-Point

    To change the set-point requires more than stretching, manipulation or massaging; it requires learning new movement/muscle-memory -- and unlearning the old muscle/movement memory. Somatic education is extraordinarily direct in accomplishing that result.

    Using movement patterns that involve pandiculation, somatic education exercises chanage movement/muscle-memory, dissolve the automatic grip of habitual and excessive tension patterns from repetitive use or injury, extinguish pain, and activate better control of movement.

    Improvements you can feel and others can see begin quickly with somatic education exercise practice and accumulate with further practice. Somatic Education Exercises are maintain a healthy "young adult" quality of movement and reduce stress.

    A somatic view looks at how things work together, not just at the anatomical parts.

    To that end, we observe that when a person is off-balance, they bend or lock their knees. Relaxed, centered knees (front to back) can exist only to the degree that the person is well-balanced -- where postural/movement imbalance is the result of virtually all injuries due to the muscular contractions triggered.

    SO -- tight hamstrings are virtually always part of a larger pattern of muscular tension imbalances and restricted movement that eventually one should address.

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    What you are seeing, here, is a special kind of movement/muscle-memory training process called, "pandiculation". It eliminates back pain, frees tight psoas muscles, resolves whiplash injuries and clears up other conditions. Clinical techniques used by practitioners, based on pandiculation, produce much larger, faster, easier changes, compressing hours of accumulated time stretching to minutes. | close-up on clinical technique sessions |

    The following video explains how to free muscles without stretching using pandiculation. A pandiculation-based exercise pattern for hamstrings develops better control between hamstrings and quadriceps (front thigh) muscles.

    MORE: Illustrated somatic education exercise instruction: The Magic of Somatics

    How to Get Other Somatic Educational Exercises

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    See also:

    Here's a free preview of The Cat Stretch (pandiculation) Exercise Program
    which, as a general conditioning program, improves breathing and flexibility.

    Point and click image for access.

    Look for "audio preview" in middle column of the page.

    The Cat Stretch Exercises
    Pandiculation Exercises to Extinguish Pain and Optimize Movement


    Which program? Click here.

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