Importance of Stretching the Hamstrings
May 24th, 2010
A surprising number of localized and global problems come from tight hamstrings: locally it can contribute to knee pain under, below & behind the knee cap, pain climbing stairs, walking downhill, menisci tears, and of course, hamstring pulls and tears.
Do these words sound familiar? “Stop slouching; keep your shoulders back and keep your head up!” Perhaps your body was doing this to survive!
Note in the 1st and 3rd postures the head is forward and the curves have changed to displace the line of gravity forward. This results in tight hamstrings and shoulder muscles which in turn can be one of the factors causing neck and back pain, headaches, and poor respiration. Thus there is more serious consequence of poor posture namely enjoying “Living large.”
WHY? Headaches, neck and shoulder pain can occur because over time there is a minute ‘forward shearing’ of the 4th cervical vertebra in relation to the 5th cervical vertebra changing the normal curve in the neck. This is an X-ray of my neck showing a flattening of the cervical area. No wonder I had head and neck aches!
For me over time this alignment change affected the 5th and 6th cervical nerve and the soft tissue (muscles ligaments, and fascia) locally. I developed shoulder and elbow pathologies which improved when I had both the neck and shoulder treated locally but also paid attention to the lower body muscle asymmetries and how they interrelate.
Another interesting fact to think about is that the “Phrenic nerve” operating the diaphragm can also be affected by poor spinal alignment so clinically I believe, that these postures develop as the body’s way of ‘maximizing its airway’, optimizing blood chemistry and oxygen intake. Think how this could affect your physiology and quality of life ie: memory, mood and moving.
In summary, I have a ‘jingle’ to remember this neurological fact: “C (cervical nerve) 3, 4 & 5, keeps the diaphragm alive”. To everyone I say, “walk around ‘high beaming’ everyone!’ They will be dazzled with your sparkle. Not only is this forward line of gravity affecting the neck but also the lumbar spine because the same forward shearing can happen at L3 on 4 or L5th on the sacrum. Symptoms can then develop in the back, hip and/or knee.
In the May newsletter I talked about the number of neck muscles including the scalenes, upper trapezius, sternomastoid, splenii and suboccipitals muscles all referring pain to the head. Therefore are frequently responsible for Tension headaches. The masticatory muscles are likely then affected, causing head aches felt at the side of the head (often first thing in the morning), facial and jaw area.
In head forward posture the scalenes and sternomastoid muscles shorten and that reduces the ability to breathe deeply. The normal ratio of breathing in the chest is 20% in the upper area and 80% in the diaphragm. Tight neck muscles reverse this ratio therefore massage and stretching of these muscles helps promote easier oxygen intake.
As the upper back rounds (thoracic hyperkyphosis) respiration is compromised and often the patient will complain of exertional breathlessness or will choose anaerobic sport intuitively; ie: will not be a marathon runner.
Lower vertebral alignment is also affected which reduces expiration and diaphragmatic movement.
In summary the patient will automatically start to do rapid upper chest breathing and there will be reduced exercise tolerance. Many of my patients complain of exercise induced asthma, increased infection, and/or allergies, reduced exercise tolerance, mood swings and decreased overall health.
In some cases their minds take over and a wee voice says “You ought to be better, soldier on.” (Anyone who comes from Britain will understand that statement) They can do it, but at what cost to their physiology? They are in danger of stressing the heart and upper chest, jaw and neck muscles. If this is combined with an asymmetrical skull, narrow palate and sinus area in my experience they develop many health issues one of which is TMD and Chronic Hyperventilation Syndrome. Both I mentioned in previous newsletters.
To recap CHVS is a condition of the respiratory system in which the rate of breathing increases, venting off carbon dioxide that exceeds the rate at which cellular metabolism is producing carbon dioxide. The symptoms resulting from CHVS and can be widespread: they can be Cardiovascular – sharp or dull atypical chest pain, palpitations; Neurological – headaches, dizziness: Respiratory – shortness of breath, irritable cough which becomes hyperactive when trying to slow breathing; Gastrointestinal – heart burn, difficulty swallowing; Muscular – pain especially occipital, neck, shoulders, in between shoulder blades, cramps, stiffness; Psychic – anxiety, panic, out of body experience; General – weakness, exhaustion, disturbed sleep, woolly head, night sweating, emotional sweating in armpits and palms.
The most severe symptoms I’ve seen are in a patient who had open heart surgery at 27!
Stretching is Vital
Stretching should be a warm up, as a break during repetitive activities and as a cool down after activities.
Rules: Breathe deeply – slow and controlled – visually thinking about the muscle that is stretching – hold for 10-15 seconds – Repeat each stretch 2-3 times-pain free stretching.
Why is Stretching so important? As we age or are leading sedentary lives, muscles lose their flexibility. This can lead to muscle imbalance; ie: some muscles are weak and some are short and strong. As body tries to adapt to imbalances, we develop common overuse injuries such as tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, neck and back strain.
Over time tight muscles can compress nerves, resulting in tingling and numbness, muscle weakness and pain. Example of this was mentioned in Scalene muscles article (see May 2010 newsletter).
Benefits of stretching:
· Improve youthful appearance as posture improves
· Muscles work more effectively
· Reduce injuries
· Muscles heal and strengthen easier because of increased blood flow and reduced muscle tension.
When and How to stretch:
· To decrease risk of injury by stretching lightly after your warm up
· Following workout. The muscles respond better to a stretch when body temperature is raised
· 2-3 times a day to improve flexibility and decrease to 3 times a week for maintenance
· Don’t compare your self to others
· No bouncing
· Breathe deeply and stretch mindfully aware of the muscle you are targeting Stretch until feel tension or pulling. Hold this and breathe until feel the muscle relaxes – breathe and then stretch a little more. You should be pain free during and after stretching.
Remember keeping fit should be your number one priority so that you can enjoy life and retirement.