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Free Your Hamstrings
and Protect Your Knees

a better way than stretching to relax and lengthen your hamstrings -- with video instruction

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

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F E E D B A C K

. . . such a great feeling of openness and greater ease.

The first time (and only, many months ago, if not a few years by now) I attempted the release described on https://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 learn a way to free your hamstrings or relieve knee pain. If you've already tried stretching and seen its limitations, that's good. I'm offering you something different that works better than stretching and that causes your hamstrings to stay free much longer.

So, let's get straight to it.

The exercise video immediately below is not a stretch, but a way to reprogram muscle/movement memory to decrease hamstring tension. 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.

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The exercise above comes from the program, Comforting Your S-I Joints.

If you have pain in your groin, low back, and where your hamstrings attach at your "sitbones" (ischial tuberosities) you need the exercises in Comforting Your S-I Joints, which includes the exercise, above. Hamstrings tighten up in sacro-iliac joint dysfunction, and a direct approach to freeing them doesn't help. The cause, reflexive tightening, is different from that of common tight hamstrings and you must address it differently. If your sacrum is normal, it's usually a matter of a few practice sessions for lasting improvements. If in doubt, check here.

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Here are the sections of this entry:

  • How Tight Hamstrings Cause Knee Pain
  • 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 knee pain often come from tight hamstrings. This entry explains how that is so and what to do, about it.

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    THE 3 BIGGEST MISTAKES MADE BY PEOPLE
    TRYING TO GET OUT OF PAIN
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    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.
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    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 (though it may seem to you that your knees are as straight as they can get) or from bending over completely. If you can't touch your toes or if you feel more comfortable, when sitting, slouching than sitting up straight, your hamstrings are probably tight.

    hamstrings image
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    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. If the above description -- hyperextended knees and overstretched hamstrings -- fits you, I'm now directing you to the program, SuperWalking, which develops healthy "walking" coordination for faster, easier walking.


    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.


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    Stretching has been shown to produce little if any effectiveness for avoiding injury, despite its widespread popularity among coaches and athletes. How do we know? We know by the frequency of knee trouble among people who stretch, including professional athletes. We know from your own experience -- and now, we know from clinical studies.

    The frequency of knee injuries among athletes, dancers, and everyone else, young or old, in any walk of life, suggests that stretches so commonly used to free and lengthen hamstrings could, let's say, be better.

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    For professional athletes and dancers, standard training includes stretching. You know the routine -- calves, quads, 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.

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    How Tight Hamstrings Cause Knee Pain

    Many kinds of problems come from 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.

    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.

    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.

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

    Torn Meniscus

    The meniscus is the pad of cartilage between the upper thigh bone (femur) and the lower shin bone (tibia). It protects the bone surfaces during walking.

    There are three hamstring muscles on the back of each thigh: two on the inside and one on the outside. One of the hamstring muscles, the biceps femoris, has fibers that pass into the knee joint that attach to and position the meniscus as the knee bends. When habitually tight, that muscle moves the meniscus into an abnormal position that makes it prone to get caught between the upper and lower leg bones, leading to popping, pain and tearing of the meniscus. 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.

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

    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.

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    A BETTER WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM

    You can do better than to stretch. Instead, break the tension habit that keeps your hamstrings getting tight again and again.
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    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 quickly and directly accomplishes that result.

    What I have been leading you to, here, is a special kind of movement/muscle-memory training process called, "pandiculation". Pandiculation is a brain-retraining action related to yawning that, correctly applied, re-sets the tension set-point so that muscles relax. Pandiculation eliminates back pain, frees tight psoas muscles, resolves whiplash injuries and clears up other injuries.

    The following video explains about pandiculation.

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    Using movement patterns that involve pandiculation, somatic education exercises change 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.

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    Look at how the body works as a whole, not just at anatomical parts.

    Injuries anywhere in the body, by altering movement and balance, add leg strain. Legs can be free of strain only if the rest of the person is free of strain.

    If you're interested in protecting your knees, you should address all of your lingering injuries.


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    Buy The Cat Stretch Exercises that do for your whole body what this exercise does for hamstrings and knees (pandiculation exercises nicknamed "the cat stretch" exercises, not a stretching program or the "Cat and Camel" exercise taught in yoga).

    How to Get Other Somatic Educational Exercises

    MORE for ATHLETES:

    FREEING CALVES, RELIEVING FOOT PROBLEMS

    HEALING GROIN INJURIES

    Click here to subscribe to the Full-Spectrum Somatics blog Subscribe to THE BLOG -- newest developments

    Preview The Cat Stretch (pandiculation) Exercise Program

    Point and click image for access.

    The Myth of Aging image

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

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

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    Which program? Click here.

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    The Institute for Somatic Study and Development
    Santa Fe, NM

    Lawrence Gold, C.H.S.E. Publications | Credentials | Personal Page
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