Muscle of the month: The Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus)
The hamstrings consist of three distinct muscles that make up the bulk of the posterior thigh. Working opposite to the quadriceps (remember The Thigh Who Loved Me?), like a pulley, these powerful muscles provide mobility, stability, and coordination of the lower extremity. From walking and running, to busting a move on the dance floor, our hamstrings are working hard to keep us moving and grooving.
As an integral part of our body mechanics, the health of our hamstring muscles is vital to our athletic, as well as our day-to-day, performance and well-being.
Actions: Long head: Hip extension, knee flexion, external rotation of knee
Short head: Knee flexion, external rotation of knee
Common pain culprit: With athletic overuse and inadequate stretching, the biceps femoris tendons may become inflamed. This is known as tendonitis. Muscle cramping (a.k.a. a Charlie horse) may also occur, especially in runners and athletes who are dehydrated.
The fix: Stretch your hamstrings before and after all physical activity. Dynamic stretching (gently moving into and out of a pose) can be helpful to increase blood flow before activity, and static stretching is helpful to lengthen fibres after activity. General recommendations are to hold static stretches for at least 15-30 seconds.
It is also important to adequately hydrate your body before activity to avoid muscle cramps, especially during the hot summer months.
Take an Epsom salts bath to soothe and nourish tired, achy muscles after a vigorous workout, practice, or game.
Semimembranosus and Semitendinosus:
Semimembranosus (left), as its name suggests, looks like a membrane fanned out at the back of the thigh. Its next door neighbour, semitendinosus (right), is a thin rope-like muscle with a palpable tendon on the inner portion of the backside of the knee.
Actions: Hip extension, knee flexion, internal rotation of knee
Common pain culprit: Sitting for prolonged periods. Whether it’s in the office at your desk or in the car to and from work, sitting causes shortening of the hamstrings because the knee is kept in a flexed (bent) position. Shortening of these muscles can also lead to pain in the hip, buttock, and low back.
The fix: Stretch your hamstrings regularly! It will only take a few minutes of your day, but the benefits will be noticeable. It is also important to perform strengthening exercises, as sitting for prolonged periods can lead to de-conditioning and weakness in the muscles.
How massage can help:
Regular massage is helpful in maintaining extensibility and overall health of the hamstring muscles by decreasing muscle tension, fascial adhesions, and trigger points in the region, all of which may be causing pain. Your RMT can assess your muscle health and guide you through a home-care regime that incorporates regular stretching and strengthening in a routine that is suited to your specific needs.