Soreness of the hamstrings, comprising the semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris muscles, is common with activities like running, walking, jumping, kicking, or suddenly starting or stopping an activity. Often, the culprit of pain and inflammation is one of the tendons of the hamstring muscles, either near the buttocks or the back of the knee; also known as hamstring tendonitis. Having a few hamstring tendonitis exercises for pain relief and appropriate muscle balance can help you recover and get back to the activities you love. Keep reading to learn more.
Stretches for Hamstring Tendon Pain
Stretching is an effective way to reduce the stiffness and inflammation that are causing your hamstring tendonitis pain. These stretches, particularly during or after higher-level activities, can help you on the road to recovery.
Don’t Forget to Pair Stretches with Conservative Treatments
For demonstrations of the following exercises, and other hamstring stretch ideas, look here:
Seated Hamstring Stretch
This easy stretch can be done anytime you’re sitting, which is very convenient for most of us. Take a few minutes at your desk or when you’re sitting on the couch and do this stretch- your hamstrings will thank you.
- Sit on the edge of your seat with a good posture (relatively flat back and shoulders back)
- With the leg you want to stretch, straighten your knee and prop your heel on the floor with the toes free and facing up toward the ceiling
- Shift your weight forward as you bend forward at the hips with a flat back
- Continue leaning forward with your trunk until a stretch is felt in the back of the leg
- Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg
Supine Hamstring Stretch with a Strap
Lying on your back in supine for a hamstring stretch is a great way to ensure you are solely targeting your leg muscles (and not your low back). If you don’t have a strap, you can try using your hands or grab a towel or belt for the same effects.
- Lie on your back with a stretch strap
- Wrap the loop of the strap around the ball of your foot
- Extend the knee and gently lift your entire straight leg up toward the ceiling- bringing your thigh closer to your chest
- Continue shifting until you feel a strong hamstring stretch in the back of the leg
- Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg
- Focus on staying relaxed throughout the body while stretching
Find More Hamstring Stretches Here
Foam Roller for the Hamstrings
A foam roller is a great tool for addressing large groups of muscle and soft tissue like the hamstrings. You can use it before your stretches to warm up the area or, if it’s hard to tolerate, you can stretch first and then try again. It’s all a matter of preference and what feels best for your symptoms.
- Grab a foam roller to get started
- Sit on roller with both legs straight out in front of you and propped on your hands
- Use your hands to guide you as you roll back and forth across the entire back of both thighs
- Move slowly and with control, being careful to avoid bony areas in the buttocks (known as the ischial tuberosity) and knees
- If you find a particularly sore area you can stop and hold making sure to stay relaxed with deep breathing
- What area you will focus on will depend on your injury and symptoms- for proximal hamstring tendinopathy (also known as high hamstring tendinopathy) focus at the top of the muscle near your bottocks, whereas for distal hamstring tendinopathy focus down closer to the knee
- You can also play with biasing on side of your thigh more than other by slightly rotating your trunk and shifting more of your weight into one side
- Continue rolling for 1-5 minutes until the hamstrings feel more relaxed
- If other areas are feeling sore, this is a great time to address other problem areas like the glutes, iliotibial band (side of the thigh), quads, and calves
Keep in mind that hamstring tendonitis can lead to soreness in surrounding muscles (or even be caused by tightness and imbalances in other areas). Thus, don’t be afraid to add in other stretches for the glutes, quads, low back, or any other areas you think you’d benefit from.
More on Foam Rolling the Hamstrings
Hamstring Tendonitis Exercises
Once you have your stretching routine dialed in, it’s time to find some hamstring-focused strengthening exercises. Hamstring exercises are designed to restore muscular balance and promote circulation and healing to affected tissues. If the active movements are too much for your hamstrings at first, you can modify them at first to isometric exercises (where you focus on tightening/squeezing the muscles without actually moving your limbs in the process).
For exercise demonstration and other exercise ideas, look here:
Prone Hamstring Curl
An exercise that targets hamstrings is important but it should be gentle enough that it doesn’t cause further strain while keeping the muscles warm and working.
- Lie on your stomach on the floor or a bench to get started
- Make sure your spine is in a good position before initiating the move (relatively flat with abs gently tightened)
- Now, simply bend your knee as you bring your heel closer to your butt and keep the front of your thigh resting on the ground
- You can focus on leg at a time, which is typically ideal to start, and build to two legs at once from there
- Bend the knee to a range of motion that you can comfortably complete without hamstring cramping (be careful with going too far as this can happen!) or arching of the low back
- Keep the movement slow and controlled in both directions
- Repeat for 15 repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg
- To progress, you can add ankle weights or wrap a band around your ankle and secure it behind you to curl against
You can also do hamstring/leg curls while sitting with a towel under your foot, or sitting on a higher surface so that your legs are dangling as you bend your knees.
This exercise is great for addressing both the glutes and hamstrings at once. With any type of hip extension, like this movement, the glutes muscles should actually be the primary muscles being used.
- Lie on your back with the knees bent and both feet flat on the floor
- Find a position for your heels at hip-width and approximately 6 to 12 inches from your butt (the bigger bend in your knee the higher chance of a hamstring cramp; so adjust accordingly)
- Tighten your glutes as you lift your butt up off the floor and hold for 3 to 5 seconds
- Repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets
- Progress to longer holds or even single leg bridges as tolerated
- When you’re ready, you can also progress to a so-called “hamstring bridge” by shifting your heels even further away from the buttocks before you lift
Alternating Hip Abduction
Having strong and coordinated hip abductor muscles is also essential for proper leg balance. This exercise helps ensure better hip abductor use to reduce strain on the hamstrings with standing activities.
- Grab a loop band and wrap it around both your legs at approximately shin height
- Tighten your abs and stand with good posture
- Shift all of your weight into one leg as you lift your opposite leg slightly off the ground
- Keep the lifted leg straight with the toes pointing forward as you kick your leg out to the side
- Go as far as you can without leaning sideways with your trunk or losing your balance
- Return your foot to the ground with control and switch to the opposite leg
- Continue alternating between your legs until you have completed 10 repetitions on each leg
- Repeat for 2-3 sets total
Deadlifts with a Band
A lot of muscles go into providing the back of your body stability, including the lower back muscles, glutes, and hamstrings. One way to address them all at once and get an effective hamstring burn is a deadlift. With this exercise, it is essential to keep perfect form when completing hip flexion (particularly in the low back) to prevent straining the spine or hamstrings.
- Grab a resistance band and stand on it with your feet hip-width apart
- Hold each end of the band in your hands at a resistance level that you can feel as you bend forward and back
- Tuck your shoulders back and tighten your abs while keeping your lower back relatively flat (a slight arch is okay)
- Bend forward at the hips, adjusting the tension of your band as needed, flexing as far as you can without feeling strain
- Pause for a moment at end range and then slowly return to the starting position
- Complete 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets total
Over time, progress to further functional activities and resistance training that incorporates your hamstrings and entire lower legs in coordination. This might include lunges, squats, single-leg balance, and beyond.
More Hamstring Exercises
Benefits of Movement
When you’re dealing with an injury like hamstring tendonitis, it can feel tempting to take a prolonged rest break until that pesky pain has subsided. However, only severe cases will require complete rest. Tendons heal and get stronger best when they are used consistently and at the right amount. You’ll also notice:
- Enhanced blood flow to reduce leg/buttock pain and inflammation
- Improved tissue health to reduce the overall risk of tendon injury
- Better weight management to reduce strain on the body
- Potential quicker recovery from your hamstring injury
- Injury prevention; lower risk of future injuries or re-injury
- Increased pain tolerance for your favorite daily activities
- Enhanced sense of well-being for living a life you love
Tips for Hamstring Pain
Hamstring strain and the onset of pain can put a serious damper on your normal routine. Follow the exercises we covered above and you should notice a gradual improvement. Additionally, follow these tips to maximize your efforts.
- Avoid putting your hamstrings in a shortened position that can cause cramping (a.k.a. deep knee flexion/bending)
- Focus on gluteal mechanics and use to reduce the amount of strain on the hamstrings with hip extension based moves, including walking and running
- Incorporate core exercises into your weekly workouts as well with weight training, mat work, or pilates
- Always warm up thoroughly before exercise
- Stretch regularly to reduce hamstring stiffness
- Strengthen the hamstrings, and other surrounding muscles, consistently
- For tendon health, focus on the eccentric phase of your exercises (the part of the exercise where the muscle is lengthening; such as straightening the knee in the case of the hamstrings)
- Listen to your body and take rest days as needed, while also avoiding long periods of inactivity too
- See a physical therapist for personalized recommendations and biomechanical tips (physical therapy can help to maximize your recovery)
- Wear compressive sleeves on the legs to keep your muscles warm and pliable during activity
- Combine your exercise routine with other pain-relieving modalities such as a foam roller, ice, heat, TENs, or an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen as needed.
Relieve Hamstring Tendonitis Pain
Movement Towards Recovery
While overuse and poor mechanics are probably what lead to your hamstring injury and dysfunction in the first place, the right movement can be your ticket to feeling better. It all starts with a consistent stretching and strengthening program that keeps your hamstring tissues as healthy as possible. If your exercises don’t seem to be helping or are even making your symptoms feel worse, talk to your sports medicine doctor or physical therapist for further medical advice.
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