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Best Stretches for Pulled Hamstring

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 06, 2020 0 Comments

A hamstring pull can leave you feeling sore and stiff with your normal daily activities. Luckily, pulled hamstring stretches are a great way to alleviate some of this discomfort and get on with your life. Getting started as soon as possible can help with the recovery process. Keep reading to learn about pulled hamstring stretches.

Dynamic Hamstring Stretches

Dynamic stretching is a movement-based approach to warming up your muscles while also improving their flexibility. Supporters of dynamic stretching theorize that warming up with cyclical movement is better than static stretching for improving athletic performance and decreasing overall injury risk.

Leg Swings

Keep the spine in neutral with the core tight to minimize movement in the back. Stand by a wall or chair for balance as you gently kick the leg in front of you and then behind you while keeping the knee straight. Keep the leg swinging smoothly like a pendulum without leaning sideways or wobbling in the spine. Do not force the range and keep it comfortable. Alternatively, you can tap your toes with outstretched hands as you kick forward.

Repeat 10-15 times on each leg for 2-3 sets.

Rhythmic Forward Bend with Stepping

For a twist on the traditional “touch your toes” approach, try this stretch. Bend forward at the hips (not the back) while stepping the legs into different positions to address various muscle fibers in the hamstring and promote good blood flow. Options include a small (3-6 inches) forward step, backward step, or side step. There is no right way to do this, simply step and move rhythmically to get the hamstrings loose.

Repeat for 10-15 repetitions in 2 or 3 different stepping directions.

Toe Swipe

A great dynamic stretch for both the hamstring and calves. Start with one leg in front of you with the leg straight, heel touching the ground, and toes up toward the ceiling. You will then step reach down toward your ankles and back up and a circular forward motion before stepping forward with the opposite leg. Each time you reach down toward your toes you should feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings and calves before moving forward and repeating on the other leg.

Walk back and forth in a room for 5-10 repetitions on each leg, 2-3 times total. 

Alternating Hip Flexor and Hamstring Stretch

Start by stepping into a deep lunge position and bring your hands to the floor on either side of your forward leg. First, let your hips fall further toward the floor to feel a deep stretch in the front of the hip. Then, lift your hands off the floor as you straighten the front knee. Adjust your trunk position, continuing to lean forward, so that you feel a deep stretch in the back of the hamstring. Hold for 3-5 seconds in each position and alternate.

Repeat the cycle 10-15 times for 1-2 sets. To promote relaxation, try moving with your breath.

Static Hamstring Stretches

Traditional static stretching can be great for focusing on one specific problem area. Static stretching typically requires less coordination and balance if that is an issue as well. When completing these stretches, never force the range or bounce into a stretch.

Supine Hamstring Stretch

Grab a stretch strap, towel, or belt and lie on your back. Wrap the strap around your foot. Then, straighten the knee and bring your entire leg up toward your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. The opposite leg can be bent with the foot flat on the floor or out straight- depending on your comfort.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Sit on the edge of your chair with a slight arch in your back and the abs tight. Bring the leg you will be stretching straight out in front of you with the knee straight and heel resting on the ground. If tolerated, try to keep your toes off the ground and pointing toward the ceiling, but strive for comfort. Then, lean your entire trunk forward over your thighs until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg. Hold and try to gradually increase your lean with time if tolerated.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Half-Kneeling Hamstring Stretch

Start on your hands and knees. Then bring the leg you would like to stretch forward, placing the heel on the ground with a straight knee. If tolerated, point your toes toward the ceiling to also get a calf stretch. Place your hands on the ground with your trunk leaning forward over your leg. Bend further forward at your hips and let the trunk fall down toward the ground as far as is comfortable to feel a stretch in the back of the leg. Keep the hips square (no rotation) and back relatively flat.

Hold for 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Long Sitting Hamstring Stretch

Sit on the floor with one leg out in front of you and the other tucked in (the bottom of the foot to your inner thigh). Keep your back straight as you lean the trunk forward. The goal is not to touch your toes but to stretch the back of your leg, so focus on good form. Square your hips with your leg and lean forward to bring your chest toward your knee as far as possible, stopping when you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh.

Hold 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Standing Hamstring Stretch

Start in a standing position with one foot slightly in front of you, propped on the heel with the toes pointing up toward the ceiling. Keep the back flat as you bend forward with your hips and bring your chest down toward the floor until you feel a stretch in the back of the thigh. You can touch your toes or the floor if you can do so without losing good form.

Hold for 30-60 seconds for 2-3 sets on each leg.

Tips for Stretching Hamstrings

After a good stretching program, you should feel warmed up, limber, and ready to go. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid sudden movements or bouncing ballistic movements when stretching to reduce risk of aggravation and injury. 
  • Temperature based modalities like ice and heat on the hamstring can help warm up and cool down your muscles too.  Try heat before stretching and icing after for swelling and pain management. 
  • While this article is focused exclusively on hamstring stretches, don’t forget to balance your program by stretching other major muscles groups like the hip flexors, quadriceps, and calves. 
  • Always use your symptoms as a gauge for how far you can stretch. While some discomfort is expected, it should never cause a significant increase in pain or make it impossible for you to relax. 
  • Other great tools for promoting blood flow and reducing stiffness include self-massage or use of a foam roller.
  • Expedite your recovery process by pairing your stretching program with appropriate strengthening exercises.

Benefits of Hamstring Stretches

There are many great benefits to starting a stretching program for your pulled hamstring. These include:

  • Increased blood flow to promote quick and proper healing
  • Less pain and improved tolerance for daily activities
  • Decreased risk of further injury or aggravation
  • Ideal to complete as a warm-up prior to a hamstring strength program
  • A great adjunct to other home treatment options to promote recovery 
  • Improved overall quality of life 

Stretching Safely

If you’re not sure where to start, you can always consult your doctor or physical therapist for further advice on what stretches and treatment options are right for you. As always, if you experience a sudden change in symptoms or don’t notice an improvement in symptoms within a few days or weeks, bring this to the attention of your doctor as soon as possible.

Sources:

https://www.bostonsportsmedicine.com/pdf/protocols/hamstring_strain.pdf

https://www.verywellhealth.com/physical-therapy-for-a-hamstring-strain-4047464

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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