Anatomy, Biomechanics, Human, Injury and Rehab, Injury Management

Happy Hamstrings

Do you ever experience hamstring pain during or after exercise? While you might experience hamstring pain or discomfort it may not be the primary source of your problem read on to find out what might be the cause and how to remedy it.

Hamstring Anatomy

The hamstrings are made up of three muscles, the bicep femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. The adductor magnus can sometimes be referred to as a fourth hamstring as it shares one of its origins with the other hamstrings on the ischial tuberosity (seat bones).

Semitendinosus and semimembranosus only have one orgin but the bicep femoris has two heads. The long head originates from the ischial tuberosity and the short head from the lateral lip of the linea aspera of the femur. The two heads merge and insert onto the head of the fibula in the lower leg. The semimembranosus inserts onto the posterior aspect of the medial condyle of the tibia while the semitendinosus merges with gracilis and sartorius to form the pes anserinus tendon. This then inserts into the proximal, medial shaft of the tibia in the lower leg.

All the hamstrings flex the knee and extend the hip. The semimembranosus and semitendinosus medially rotate the knee and hip while the bicep femoris laterally rotates the knee and hip.

Potential Hamstring Issues

Hamstrings can become grumpy due to a number of reasons. Firstly they may actually experience a strain, tear or feel permanently tight. While the hamstring could be the primary cause it is often other soft tissue structures that are the instigator. So the 3 key things to look at if you experience hamstring issues are

  • Quadriceps to hamstring strength
  • Gluteal activation
  • Anterior tilt of the pelvis

Anterior Pelvic Tilt

Anterior pelvic tilt can come about due to tightness in the hip flexors (iliopsoas: psoas and iliacus) as well as tightness in the quadriceps. The pelvic tilt can stretch the hamstrings as a result you ask the hamstrings to take load in this position. The hamstrings feel tight so you try and stretch them further which probably doesn’t do a lot. If the hamstrings are loaded while being stretched then they have less elasticity are are more likely to injure. So by releasing or stretching the hip flexors and quadriceps you can reduce anterior tilt of the pelvis and allow the hamstrings to relax more. This should reduce the chances of straining them.

Gluteal Activation

Another consequence of anterior pelvic tilt can be the gluteal muscles not activating properly. Gluteal activation is not always dependant on anterior pelvic tilt being present. Sports than involve sitting on bending over and not full hip extension can also cause the glutes to not activate. As a result the hamstrings activate before the gluteal muscles do. This again puts extra strain on the hamstrings making them more vulnerable to injury. So to combat this getting the gluteals activating, strong and doing their job will take the load off the hamstrings.

Quadriceps to hamstring strength

Athletes often focus on strengthening the quadriceps and forget about their hamstring. Quadriceps should be stronger because of their job but one of the hamstrings job is to control and stabilise extension of the knee. If this didn’t happen then the strength of the quadriceps would cause the knee to over extend, and cause hamstring injuries. As a result it is really important to do specific hamstring exercises such as Nordic hamstring curls.

Below is a video on how to keep your hamstrings happy and reduce the possibility of sustaining and injury to them