Protect Your Hamstrings With a Solid, Stable Core

by Dr. Nathan Hinkeldey on October 12, 2012

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Recently I’ve written quite a bit about what causes hamstring strains and how to stretch to prevent hamstring injury. Now I’d like to devote some time to an often overlooked piece of the healthy hamstring puzzle: Core Stability.

You probably already know that poor core stability is frequently blamed for low back pain, but an underdeveloped core has ramifications that go far beyond just your low back. Specifically, your core muscles are responsible for maintaining the posture of the pelvis, which in turn affects the length of the hamstring musculature, as illustrated in the photos, below.

Image 1 illustrates what we often see in people with a weak core. Clinicians call this an anterior pelvic tilt posture, or more colloquially, a “J-lo posture.” Within this posture you can see that the hamstring muscles (indicated by the red lines) are already lengthened with tension. So ask yourself this: If the hamstrings are under tension while in a standing posture, what will happen when you walk or run? The answer is that even more tension will be placed throughout this area making this muscle group more prone to injury.

In Image 2 you see a neutral posture, which is one indicator of good core stability. Of course, this is just a basic standing posture assessment, so additional testing is required to assess the actual strength and stability of the core. Nonetheless, this position of the pelvis places the proper amount of stress on the hamstrings ensuring that there is tension to assist the pelvis, but not enough to predispose the person to a hamstring injury.

A posterior pelvic tilt, or “plumber posture” is shown in Image 3. This posture is very likely the product of shortened hamstrings which can also increase the likelihood of a hamstring injury.

So, the correlation between your core and your hamstrings is:

  1. Core stability affects pelvis position.
  2. Pelvis position affects hamstring tension.
  3. Too much or too little hamstring tension can result in injury.

Creating Core Stability

So, with so much riding on your core, you’re probably wondering what is an effective method for building and maintaining great core stability? Well, it isn’t sit-ups, roman chair exercises, leg lifts, or pull overs. These exercises can build core strength; however, we are looking for stability. (I’ll be writing about the difference between strength and stability in a future blog post, but for now take my word that stability is what we are after.)

A much more effective routine for building good core stability is a series of plank exercises, illustrated in the images below. For each exercise, the first image demonstrates how to properly perform the exercise. Subsequent images show common mistakes you’ll want to be aware of and try to avoid.

Here are some other things to keep in mind as you work through the plank exercise and its variations:

  1. Try to keep your back in a neutral posture. It helps to be able to look in a mirror as your perform these exercises, particularly when you’re just starting.
  2. Brace your core, but do not suck in your stomach. For an example of a braced core, place your hand on your stomach and cough; you should feel your abdominal muscles contract. That’s what you’re going for. If it helps, start the exercise with a cough and then hold the contraction.
  3. Start small and work up. Proper joint position is more important than holding than holding a posture for a long period. In fact, anyone can perform this exercise for 10 minutes improperly, but few can hold a proper plank for longer than 2 minutes.
  4. Follow the progression shown in the images: standing on the wall, on the knee and elbows, toes and elbows, and then toes and hands.
  5. Your goal is to to hold each of the proper positions for one minute without a large shake or tremor.

As always, if you have any questions about this exercise or anything other chiropractic matter, please feel free to contact Team Chiropractic & Rehabilitation, your chiropractor in Johnston, Iowa. It has been, and will always be, our goal to empower you to Work Hard. Play Harder. Expect More.

Know someone with a history of low back pain or hamstring injury? Or just feel like this was a helpful article that others could benefit from? Use the “Share” box at the top or bottom of this page to tell your friends and family about it on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, or send it to them in an email.

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