In a previous blog post, I attempted to make the following points:
- Hamstring injuries are common among athletes in many sports.
- Suffering the injury once puts an athlete at increased risk for future hamstring strains.
Chances are you didn’t really need me to tell you that, though. Just ask any coach, trainer, or team doctor how many times they’ve heard an athlete say “I just strained my hamstring…again!” In fact, many young athletes report having suffered two or three hamstring strains by the time they were 21 years old.
But this information isn’t just for ultra-competitive athletes. Hamstring injuries can and do happen during even the most casual athletic endeavors and it’s not unheard of for non-athletes to “strain a hammy” during mundane, everyday tasks such as mowing the lawn or walking the dog.
The question, then, is obvious: How can we avoid these painful injuries? The answer sounds just as obvious – stretching. Problem is, even those of us who do stretch regularly often don’t stretch effectively because we:
- Use a limited range of motion when we stretch.
- Stretch the wrong muscle groups to prevent hamstring strains.
Fortunately, there are some well established protocols for stretching to prevent hamstring strains that address both of these issues.
Stretching in 3D
Even among seasoned athletes there is often a tendency when “warming up” to only stretch in one direction. The problem here should seem obvious – we move in multiple directions during a game, practice, or just going about our daily activities. So it’s imperative that our stretching routine account for that. You must stress your body in multiple directions while moving in order for a stretching routine to be effective. This includes moving front to back, leaning right and left, and rotating right and left. Please note that this should be performed with short holds (i.e. while moving), especially prior to an event. Some evidence suggests that stretching with long holds can decrease the spring-like effect that muscle has creating a decrease in performance.
Stretch Your Hips, Not Your Hammies
Many people are surprised to learn that one of the most important exercises to perform to help prevent hamstring injuries is stretching the hip flexor. It’s natural to think that stretching the hamstring will prevent these injuries; however, the most recent studies just don’t support this idea. Instead, the studies emphasize the importance of stretching the hip flexor. This can be performed in many different ways, but we specifically recommend the exercises illustrated below as a great way to increase hip flexor length and lessen the likelihood of a hamstring pull.
These exercises are designed to provide a dynamic stretch in the three directions mentioned earlier. Each set should consist of 10 repetitions held for 3-5 seconds. Using the arms and moving them in the directions illustrated in the pictures below will produce a different pull or stretch. Be sure to incorporate the following tips to make the most of your stretching routine.
Tips for Effective Hip Flexor Stretching
- Make sure that your core is tight and braced. Do not suck in your belly! Push it out. A great cue to think about is using a cough. When you cough, you stabilize your core, so, cough and hold that contraction.
- Think of your pelvis as a bucket of water. When you are performing this stretch, picture trying to dump water out of the back.
- Your chest and hips should move as one unit. Do not lean back with your shoulders as this will decrease the effectiveness of the stretch and could promote dysfunction.
- You should feel the stretch in the front of the thigh on the side in which the knee is on the ground. If you can’t feel it, it is likely that some alteration needs to be made.
- Most importantly remember that real results will takes time. You will notice a different feeling in the hips if you keep doing this stretch. Don’t give up! Realize that the key to preventing injuries and saving healthcare dollars is consistency and taking an active role in your health.
This is just one option that should be incorporated into your pre-activity/ pre-competition routine. Our next post will address the importance of core stability, and it will provide a couple of great core exercises that will assist strengthening your core. This will ultimately decrease your chance of obtaining a hamstring strain. If you know someone who participates in athletics, this would be a great post to forward to them. It is one of the most common injuries present in athletics. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact your Johnston Chiropractor, Dr. Nate would be glad to discuss your problem and offer you possible solutions.