It’s common to experience tight hamstrings if you sit for prolonged periods of time. Some of us also have tension in the back of the legs that is from “neural tension” rather than, or in addition, to tight hamstrings.
Neural tension is created when the body is placed in certain positions that limit the ability of the nerve fibers to slide and glide.
Similar to flossing your teeth, nerves are happiest when they are able to move freely with good blood supply. If there are mechanical irritations along the path of the nerve (ex: injury, entrapment, chemical disruption, etc) one can experience sensory issues (pins and needles), pain, or weakness.
Have you ever noticed sensations in the back of the thigh or ankle after prolonged sitting? That could be neural tension.
Physical therapists and other practitioners can use neural tension tests to figure out the origin of pain. For example, you can have pain in your glut for a number of reasons. To see if it is coming from the sciatic nerve, the practitioner would put you into a position that would lengthen the nerve and look for symptom replication.
We can choose to mobilize the nervous system (just like we do the muscular system) to offer the nerves nourishment and mobility. This active mobilization helps the nerves and their surrounding fascia slide and glide.
What is active hamstring mobilization?
Active hamstring mobilization can be used as a sciatic nerve glide and an active warm-up for the back half of the body.
Fascia, the connective tissue web in the body, is continuous in different planes in the body. One plane of fascia starts at the sole of the feet, up thru the back of the legs, up the back and ends up at the scalp. This plane (superficial back line) is mobilized in the active hamstring mobilization.
First we’ll learn the basic mechanics of the stretch and then we will pair it with pelvic floor breath and imagery.
I first learned this active warm-up when I was working as a physical therapist backstage at the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The Rockettes are guaranteed an active warm-up before jumping into a kickline during rehearsal. This is critical for injury prevention and much preferred over static stretching.
It is a great alternative to and/or warm-up for Downward Facing Dog as well!
Practice the active hamstring mobilization
The active hamstring mobilization has two parts to it: squatting and then extending your legs as you raise your midsection, which stretches the hamstrings and other muscles in the back of your legs, like the gastroc and soleus.
- Bring yourself into a squat position with your knees bent and feet apart. Most people will want their feet pointing forwards, but this could be different for different bodies. Some hip joints will prefer to be slightly turned out. The foot position will bias the backs of the legs differently (pulling on the inner and outer hamstrings), so play with what feels best for you.
- Have your hands clasped and elbows resting just above your knees
- Exhale as you start to lift your rear end towards the ceiling.
- Your elbows will remain in contact with your legs and hands will stay clasped. This means your knees may not straighten the whole way and that is 100% okay!
- Notice what changes with 10 reps: more ease? More range of motion?
Pair pelvic floor imagery with your breath
Take this active mobilization a step further with the mind-body connection.
Let’s review what the pelvic floor muscles do during a breath:
- As you inhale, your pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm both descend towards your feet. This is a lengthening contraction.
- As you exhale, they both ascend towards your center.
If we pair the squat aspect of the mobilization with the inhale, we are encouraging more lengthening.
Go one step further and imagine your sitz bones separating as you inhale.
I hope you enjoy this mobilization! It’s helped me and my patients with pelvic pain quite a bit.