How Tight Hamstrings
Cause Knee Damage

a better way to free them
and save your knees

by +Lawrence Gold
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Certified Hanna Somatic Educator

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The first time (and only, many months ago, if not a few years by now) I attempted the release described on 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

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See also:


The Cat Stretch Somatic Exercises


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
  • To Learn This Somatic Exercise
  • How to Get More Somatic Exercises
  • C all me old fashioned, but I don't think that a person's palms should touch the ground when hanging relaxed.

    There's a reason I say that.

    Surprising as it may seem, one would think that Mother Nature (or evolution, or the Good Lord) would limit the excursion just short of the knuckles scraping the ground. Think about it.

    hanging forward
    There's a kind of naturalness about it, an economy of form. One can hang forward just short of your knuckles scraping the ground, and just hang there.

    It's like an act of mercy. Humans' knuckles shouldn't drag on the ground. It's undignified.

    O ddly, 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.

    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 (ooch!), pain and pain behind the knee (ouch!) and, of course, hamstring pulls and tears (groan).

    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.

      Let's say that The Good Lord has left the problem up to us.

      It gives rise to the phrase,

    Let My Hamstrings Go!

    This article presents a more certain way to free your hamstrings, without stretching, to decrease your chance of injury while substantially improving your performance, and to save your knees, namely, your cartilage and ligaments -- and keep your strength, speed and comfort.

    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.

    Sound OK?

    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.

    There are actually three hamstring muscles on the back of each thigh, two on the inside and one on the outside. They do several things. In addition to bending the knees, they help control the alternate forward-and-backward movements of walking and stability against twisting forces at the knee when you turn a corner or roller skate. They also position the menisci in the knees by means of fibers (of the biceps femoris) that pass into the knee joint. Tight hamstrings displace the menisci and also cause them to catch between the bones of the leg, leading to popping and pain, torn menisci, ACL injury, and crepitus (crunchy knee).

    Tight hamstrings contribute to swayback by pulling the knees behind the body's vertical centerline (i.e., locking the knees). The whole body sways forward, accentuating the spinal curves. If the outer hamstrings are tighter than the inner ones, the lower leg rotates toe-outward. This twist in the knee joint contributes to knee pain, to knee problems when running, to ligament (e.g., ACL) injuries, and to loss of cartilage (and joint replacement).

    Finally, when standing, bent knees trigger tension in the muscles on the front of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles, to prevent your knees from buckling. If you keep your knees bent all the time, the patella, or kneecap, which is embedded in the tendon of the quadriceps muscles, continuously grinds against the front surface of the knee joint, may become irritated, and earn the latin name chondromalacia patelli (translation of that "fifty-dollar term": "bad condition of the cartilage of the kneecap").

    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 a new pattern of movement/muscle-memory -- and unlearning the old pattern so that it is available but not automatically in control. Somatic education is extraordinarily direct in accomplishing that process.

    In a process that uses the sensations of movements done deliberately and intelligently, somatic education vividly awakens movement/muscle-memory, dissolves the automatic grip of habitual and often excessive tension patterns put in place by intense or prolonged experiences, brings them to rest, and awakens competence in much more fluid and balanced movement.

    Improvements begin rather quickly upon beginning somatic exercise practice and they accumulate with continued practice. Somatic exercises are suitable as a daily regimen for maintaining a healthy "young adult" quality of movement, physical comfort, for mental focus and stress-reduction.

    A somatic view looks at relationships, not just at 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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    T H E E N D

    The following simple, but somewhat demanding somatic exercise, taught by Thomas Hanna, Ph.D., a pioneer-innovator in the field of somatic education, will show you. It develops better control between hamstrings and quadriceps (front thigh) muscles. Do it after the somatic exercise at top.

    Have someone read the instructions to you; watch the video. Understand, then do.

    Another Somatic Exercise
    for Tight Hamstrings

    CLICK to get a free preview. This action opens an email window that, when sent, triggers a quick-response email message with a download link -- and puts yourself on our confidential contact list. If you don't wish to be listed, please say so in your message.

    1. Sit on the floor with one leg bent and dropped to the side. Its sole rests against the inside of your other leg, which is straight.
    2. Draw your straight leg up enough to permit you to grasp your foot with both hands; your finger tips meet at your sole. Get a firm grip, and you are ready to begin.
    3. Holding your foot firmly, gently push with your leg, so that your arm and shoulder stretch long. Hang your head forward. Work gently to the edge of your flexibility.
    4. Now, gradually relax your push, let your knee bend, and take up the slack by drawing your leg up with your hands. It's a kind of "moving isometric" exercise.
    5. Now, with your leg, push again, maintaining some pull with your hands. Go back and forth within your comfort zone.

    You'll notice that with each repetition, you get a little further. You're gaining feeling and control of the muscular tension in your hamstrings. The thing to remember is to move slowly enough and just strongly enough to clearly feel the muscle action.

    After about ten slow motion repetitions, stand up and feel the difference between your two legs. Walk. You will notice that you feel looser, and yet secure.

    Now, do the other leg.

    You can do this somatic learning exercise in numerous positions:

        • sitting
        • on your back
        • on your side
        • on your other side

    Each position contributes to greater awareness and control.

    If you can't assume the working position shown, your back is too tight and you need to learn to relax your back. CLICK to get a simplified version of an exercise to free your back or get the Cat Stretch program, a general program for movement health.

    Regardless of how long you may have had tight hamstrings or how tight they are, you will feel some improvement each time you do it -- until you are naturally loose.

    Freeing your hamstrings this way can prevent soft-tissue injuries and preserve joint integrity. Your hamstrings will be stronger because, being relaxed, they will not be partially fatigued all the time. You will be able to run or walk faster and your knees will be more stable. Runners may find this benefit of particular interest.

    How to Get More Somatics

    What you are doing, here, is a special kind of movement/muscle-memory training process called Hanna Somatic Education®. It eliminates back pain, frees tight psoas muscles, resolves whiplash injuries and clears up other conditions. Clinical techniques used by practitioners produce much larger, faster, easier changes, compressing days of exercise practice into an hour or so, used for complex chronic pain conditions that may have remained after therapy. | close-up on clinical technique sessions |

    Here's a free preview of The Cat Stretch Exercises that completely clear up most sciatica.

    Point and click image for access.

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

    The Cat Stretch Exercises
    Somatic Exercises to Relieve Neuromuscular Stress

    Lessons 1 - 4 specifically effective for sciatica | 1 - 3 weeks


    The Institute for Somatic Study and Development
    Santa Fe, NM

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