Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Tight hamstrings, back pain, and movement

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Is there any connection between hamstring flexibility and the amount of lumbar movement when reaching forward? You’d think so, and you’d be right … about healthy people. Not so much in folks with back pain! This straightforward study was so simple that the results are hard to argue with: some low back pain patients use their lumbar joints when they reach, and some don’t, and good luck predicting which ones based on hamstring flexibility. You’ll fail if you try, this data says.

So that’s how it is. But why and what does it mean? That’s much trickier, of course. Apparently hamstring flexibility is a trivial factor in how the back moves, and it gets trumped when people develop back pain. Which probably means that tight hamstrings aren’t a risk factor for back pain. Which probably also means stretching — even if you could stretch hamstrings — also won’t have much effect on how back pain patients use their backs. For whatever that’s worth.

Oh, and the lack of correlation persisted even after recovery, which is particularly interesting. And also mostly uninterpretable without more information (like how long that effect lasts).

“Effect of hamstring flexibility on hip and lumbar spine joint excursions during forward-reaching tasks in participants with and without low back pain”
Johnson et al. Archives of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. Volume 91, Number 7, 1140–2. Jul 2010.