So, first things first. What do tight hamstrings have to do with back pain? A lot! Your back, especially your lumbar spine (lower back), is designed to be fairly stable. The network of muscles in your core (abdominals and pelvic floor) and surrounding your spine are there to support you in an upright position.We are designed to be on our feet and moving, and that means our hips, where are legs attach to our pelvis/torso, are meant to be flexible and fluid so we can take strides, moving ourselves from one place to another. But more often than not, what we typically are doing is sitting. And, usually it is for prolonged periods of time. At work, sitting at a desk; at home, watching TV, etc. And all that sitting on our butt, and not moving, causes our hips (where all of the hamstring muscles connect to the pelvis) to get really, really tight.
OK, great. But how do tight hamstrings make my back hurt?
So, the tightness of your hamstrings causes your pelvis to be pulled down and away from the lumbar spine, which puts the lower back in a position of instability–the exact opposite of what it needs!
But, wait just a minute. What about the hip flexors?
Good question. The iliopsoas is a key muscle for great posture and length in the spine and back. Without adequate length in the psoas, one cannot walk tall, and one can experience a hunched back and a lack of movement in the hips and legs. What many do not realize is that much lower back pain can also be traced back to the muscles of the hip; that is, when the hip flexor muscles are overly tight, they can lead to pain in the lower back.
I hope I haven't caused any confusion up to this point. I don't want to simplify the complexities of these parts of our body with these brief descriptions alone. It is only intended to provide a glimpse of the possibilities of, for whatever the reason, imbalances in our body can occur. This then can result in discomfort, limited range of motion and inflexibility.
Tackling the unique mystery as to why one has back pain or is suffering from tightness in the hips and hamstrings, well, that should explored and/or assessed by a medical professional.
My point is that hamstring, hip and lower back conditions are most often interrelated. In designing his week's Yin practice I wanted to focus on targeting our lower back, then our hips, move into our hip flexors and then target our hamstrings - in that order. Which means we'll be moving from Happy Baby into Deer, then Swan, Dragon and finally to Caterpillar. It is my hope that we'll all be feeling a little looser and open after our class this week.