Hamstring stretch exercises are designed to engage the large muscles at the back of your thigh. These muscles -- called hamstrings -- are susceptible to injury and play a role in conditions that affect posture and cause back pain. To relieve the pain caused by tight or overworked hamstrings, do simple hamstring stretches that can help soothe the tension in the back of your legs.
The connection between your hamstrings and back pain
The hamstring muscles are important for your posture. When you sit at your desk or drive for hours, it puts stress on your lower back and causes tension in your hamstring muscles.
Tight hamstrings tend to pull your pelvis into a posterior tilt. A posterior pelvic tilt refers to a backward and upward rotation of the pelvic bone. When the position of your pelvis relative to your head and rib cage is incorrect, your posture suffers – and so does your back.
A constant posterior tilt can overwork your back muscles. These muscles will work against your hamstrings and try to return your pelvis to a neutral position. This can cause discomfort and flatten the arch of your back over time.
7 Hamstring stretches that can soothe your back pain
Returning balance to your back and pelvis is the key to relieving back pain. These seven stretch exercises are designed to soothe tight hamstrings and maximize the flexibility of your posterior leg muscles. (h/t to Blog.PaleoHacks.com)
The calf stretch
This hamstring stretch is effective in relieving tension in the hamstrings. Here's how to do it:
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place your hands on your hips.
Take a step back with your right foot; plant your whole foot firmly on the ground.
Bend the front knee while keeping the back knee straight. Your back heel should be pressed into the mat.
Hold this pose for 10 breaths then do it on the other side.
The standing forward fold
This forward fold is active and involves facilitated stretching, which can increase your flexibility and prevent your hamstrings from overstretching. You will need two yoga blocks for this.
With your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees and fold forward. Your yoga blocks should be placed on the ground just under your shoulders, so you can hold on to them as you fold.
Press your heels firmly, then try to pull them apart – as if you want to rip your yoga mat in half. This is an isometric muscle action that will activate your outer hip muscles.
Straighten your legs by lifting the back of your pelvis up. Continue trying to pull your heels apart.
Inhale and elongate your spine then exhale and bow forward.
Lunge your right foot forward and keep your left leg behind you and place your hands on the yoga blocks in front of you.
Turn your front leg out and move your yoga blocks toward the inside of your front leg.
With your back toes still tucked, slowly move your back knee onto the mat.
Lean your hips forward and try to pull your back knee diagonally towards the front heel. Do not break your pose. You should feel your inner thigh muscles engage.
Hold this stretch for 10 breaths before gently releasing yourself out of the stretch. Switch to the other side.
The supine hamstring stretch
This stretch helps activate the top leg so you can gain more range of motion and avoid pulling your hamstring. To do this:
Lie on your back and bend both knees, keeping your feet hip-width apart on the ground.
Stretch your left leg out in front of you. Flex both feet.
Bend your right knee towards your chest and clasp your hands beneath your right thigh.
Activate your right leg for three seconds by pressing it into your hands. Release the pressure and repeat for 10 breaths.
The half split
This stretch is for the backs of your legs. To do this:
Lunge your right foot forward and your left leg back and hold onto the yoga blocks in front of you.
Lower your back knee and stretch your front leg. To lengthen your spine, move your blocks underneath your shoulders.
Slowly pull your front heel back towards your back knee.
Inhale deeply, exhale, then bow over your front leg. Keep yourself in position while you're stretching.
Hold for 10 breaths, then release yourself gently. Switch to the other leg.
The pyramid pose
This pose is designed to stretch the backs of your legs. Try to keep your quadriceps active while you're doing it.
Stand with your feet planted hip-width apart and your yoga blocks in your hands.
Step your left foot back just enough that you don't make yourself feel uncomfortable. Keep your whole foot on the ground.
Inhale and stretch your spine then exhale and fold yourself at the hips. Your yoga blocks should be on the ground on either side of you so you can have something to hold on to as you bow over your front leg.
Hold for 10 breaths then release yourself by gently bending your front knee and lengthening your spine.
The seated forward fold
When doing this stretch, try to keep your back long, and breathe steadily to engage your hamstrings. To do this:
Sit with your legs stretched out before you and flex your feet.
Place your hands on the floor or either side and come onto your fingertips. Inhale then press down into your hands and stretch your spine. Exhale then move your hands a few inches forward, but keep your back long.
Lengthen your torso when you inhale and fold more at the hips when you exhale.
Elongate your back and gently come out of the pose.