A recent post of mine discussed why 'weak' is a difficult word to define. I also pointed out the same is true with the word 'tight' and so I need to explain the reason for that.
Now "I have tight hamstrings" is a phrase I have heard over and over and over in the last 14 years of being in the fitness profession and I'm guessing that you have either heard or said those exact words (you can also replace the word hamstrings for any other muscle on your body). So in the past I would have shown you how to stretch them. Because that's what you need to do if something is tight isn't it? You stretch it?
Well no, not necessarily. You ready for this?
The word 'tight' can mean a huge range of things. It tells me how it feels but not the reason for WHY it's feeling that way. And as a consequence the reason for why it's feeling that way means that we treat it with different techniques.
What if your hamstrings are tight because the muscle fibres are in spasm? Should you stretch them? Stretching a muscle in spasm may only make things worse. After all there is a reason for that spasm. For example, if your sciatic nerve is tethered down somewhere then, because the body never wants to injure a nerve, it makes the muscles around the nerve protect it. Let me explain this in a simpler way.
The sciatic nerve is stuck somewhere. Lets say it's stuck along some part of the back of the leg. You stretch your leg which pulls on the nerve. The body thinks "oh shit, we're going to tear this nerve. We need to protect it". And so the body 'tightens' the muscles in the legs so that you cant stretch further and potentially do more damange to the nerve. So now your legs feel 'tight' and you stretch because that's what you’ve been told to do. But you stretch and stretch which pulls at the nerve. Guess what the body does….yep it 'tightens' up even more to stop you doing something stupid. Make sense?
OK so what if your hamstrings are tight because the muscle fibres are fibrotic and have got stuck together? If so then stretching may. And so will massage. Think about it. The fibres are stuck. Stretching tears the fibres and 'glue' apart. Job done.
But what if your hamstrings are tight because they are protecting your knee joint? Maybe you have 'weak' quads (Refer to post on the word 'weak'). And so the hamstrings are needing to work extra hard to support the knee. Well then, trying to release this muscle with stretches and/ or muscle releases is just going to make the knee joint even more vulnerable and can lead to a whole host of issues.
So, yes….you may have 'tight' hamstrings but you need to figure out WHY. And in doing so you can work out what action you need to take.
It's not always as straight forward as just stretching whatever feels 'tight'.