Dear Willow: Help My Tight Hamstrings!
What is hamstring tightness?
Hamstring tightness is a common problem among runners. Most of us have experienced it at some point during our running careers. Some may even be suffering from it right now. The reason why so many of us are experiencing hamstring tightness is because we sit all day long (and night) with our legs crossed over each other.
Why do we do this?
Because most of us don’t want to get up and move around. When we stand up, our hamstrings feel like they’re going to explode out of their sockets.
So what’s wrong with this picture?
The Problem With Sitting All Day Long
There are several reasons why we sit all day long, but the main one is due to laziness. We just aren’t motivated enough to get up and move around when we could be doing something productive instead. Another reason is that we’re not really aware of how our bodies work.
We tend to think that if we spend time working out or stretching, then our bodies will automatically adjust themselves to make them more efficient. But this isn’t necessarily true. Our bodies actually adapt very slowly and require a certain amount of effort before they start functioning properly again. And sometimes these adaptations take longer than others.
So what happens when we sit all day long?
Our hamstrings are the muscles on the back side of our upper legs. When we sit down for extended periods of time, our hamstrings tighten up. Usually, when this happens we can feel the tension in these muscles. But this isn’t really a problem since we can get up and walk around to relieve the pain. The real issue is what’s going on with the rest of our leg muscles that we can’t feel.
We spend so much time sitting down with our legs crossed that our hip flexors (the muscles to the front of our hips) are shortened. When this happens, extra pressure is put on the hamstrings since these muscles are constantly being contracted and tightened. This puts the hamstrings in a state of constant exhaustion and they never really have a chance to rest.
The issue with this is it can cause problems with the lower back as well as the knees. The constant tension on the hamstrings can put a lot of pressure on the lower back since it weakens the muscles there and they aren’t able to do as good of a job in supporting the body. The knees also suffer because the knees are where all of the tension from the hamstrings is being directed .
The knees are much smaller than the legs and aren’t able to handle all of this extra pressure. This causes pain and soreness in this region.
What should you do?
The solution to this problem is really quite simple, but it may not be the most fun. The first thing you need to do is start doing some light exercises to get your hip flexors working properly again. To perform these exercises simply stand up and then bend your knees as if you were sitting down in a chair. Once you reach a 90 degree angle, hold this position for about 30 seconds and then release. Do this about 5 times. You should feel your hip flexors pulling on the front of your legs.
The second thing you need to do is start doing some stretching exercises for your hamstrings. When you spend a lot of time sitting down, the muscles shorten and tightness is increased. So what you need to do is take the time to stretch these muscle groups out after you do your hip flexor exercises.
One of the best ways to do this is a good old-fashioned hamstring stretch. You can do this by laying down on your back and bending one leg up. Then take that foot and place it as close to your butt as you can get it. With your other leg, push the heel back and slowly feel the stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold for about 30 seconds and then switch legs.
A good thing to do immediately after getting up is to start walking around for 5-10 minutes after you do your hip flexor and hamstring exercises. This will keep your muscles working properly and will help prevent any extra tension from building up.
These exercises are simple but very important to prevent pain and injury in the long term. So make a conscious effort to remember to do them every day.
Pain in the Neck
Your neck often gets a bad wrap when it comes to pain. For some reason, people assume that your neck is just as fragile and prone to injury as your low back. Of course this isn’t true at all but there is a good chance that you do experience some pain in the neck from time to time.
This can either come from too much time at the computer or an actual injury to the region.
What Can You Do?
It really depends on the cause of your neck pain but for most people the best approach is a combination of rest, ice, and over-the-counter pain relievers. If you are experiencing a great deal of pain then I would advise you to see a doctor because it could be something more serious.
Stretching the muscles in the front of the neck can help relieve tension. The sternocleidomastoid muscles can be especially tight in people who spend a lot of time looking down at a computer monitor or playing instruments. To stretch, simply tilt your head to one side as far as you can, hold it for a few seconds, and then relax.
Repeat on the other side. You should feel the tension start to lessen immediately.
You should also take the time to do some isolated stretching of the muscles in the front of your neck. The best way to do this is to place your fingers on your chin and then gently pull your head forward. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds and then slowly release.
Do not force your head forward, only stretch to the point where you feel tension, no more.
Of course you should never overlook the obvious and if your neck pain stems from playing a musical instrument then you really need to consider if your choice of instrument is right for you. If you absolutely love to play then you should try to learn how to adapt and minimize the stress on your body.
Like I said, the neck is often given a bad wrap when it comes to pain and injury. Most of the time it’s blown out of proportion and can be treated simply by taking it easy and using some common sense. However, it is important to remember that your brain is housed in your neck and a serious injury could prove disastrous!
Be smart, if you experience any severe pain then you should see a doctor right away.
You should also take care of your hands because they are vital for playing the guitar. You wouldn’t want to do anything that would prevent you from playing!
As with the low back, one of the best ways to take care of your hands is to take a break every now and then. If you’ve been playing for more than about an hour, then it’s time to put down the guitar and do something else. This will give your muscles a chance to rest and reduce the risk of developing hand or wrist pain.
Although you may not need to worry about arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, which are common problems for people who work at a computer in an office, you still need to take care of your hands. The most important thing is to make sure that your hands are relaxed and do not tighten up while you are playing the guitar.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is through hand and finger stretching. Try to remember to do this every once in awhile whether you think you need it or not.
Again, there is a simple five minute routine that will help a lot. All you need to do is make a couple of fists, stretch out your fingers, wiggle your fingers and twist your hand back and forth. Some players like to tap their fingers against a hard surface like their guitar case.
Try both ways and see what works best for you.
The most important thing to remember is to BREATHE while you are playing. This might sound simple and silly, but you would be surprised at how many people (especially people who work at a computer!) forget to do this!
Playing the guitar is exhilarating and it is very easy to get so wrapped up in what you are doing that you forget to take deep breaths.
Taking deep breaths helps keep your muscles loose, keeps you calm, and keeps your head clear so that you can play your best. It also has the added benefit of helping you avoid getting muscle cramps in the first place.
The only other thing worth mentioning is that it is important that you have proper form when playing the guitar. Having bad habits such as playing with your wrist twisted under the guitar can lead to pain and injury.
Sources & references used in this article:
Yoga Rx: A step-by-step program to promote health, wellness, and healing for common ailments by B Shaughnessy – 2000 – Macmillan
A State of Mind, My Story by L Payne, R Usatine – 2009 – books.google.com
White Indian boy: My life among the Shoshones by JZ Knight, JZ Knight – 2004 – books.google.com
Grizzlies on My Mind: Essays of Adventure, Love, and Heartache from Yellowstone Country by J Woginrich – 2013 – Storey Publishing
The Yoga of Golf by EN Wilson – 2009 – books.google.com
Callanetics by MW Leach – 2014 – books.google.com