Those Dang Hamstrings

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the butterfly effect, how one seemingly innocuous event could create a greater outcome somewhere else. I thought it would be good to touch upon the topic again in regards to the hamstrings. The hamstrings (the muscles of the back of your thighs) are one of your largest muscle groups. They are made up of the two-headed Biceps Femoris, the Semimembranosis, and Semitendinosis. The hamstrings originate at your sit bones and travel down the back of your leg before winding around and under both sides of your knee where they anchor into your lower leg bones.

What is even more cool is the covering of the muscle known as fascia connects to the fascia of other muscles. It’s like how sausage casing connects each link to one another. The hamstring’s fascia connects to the fascia of the calves, gluteals, and lower back. Their fascia connects to the muscles that support the arch of your foot, the big back muscles known as Latissimus Dorsi (lats), and the muscles that run up your spine. If we were to keep following the fascial connections we could end up at our hands, or the top of our head, or perhaps the big toe. The point is that we are taught each muscle is an individual when in reality it is a complex connection with other muscles.

Once we understand this then it is easy to see that the pain we sometimes experience may be caused due to tension somewhere along the connecting tissue. We begin to understand that pain, although it doesn’t feel great, is, in fact, a great way for the body to tell the brain something is not quite right.

I’ll give you a recent example: This week I had someone come in to the gym complaining of left shoulder pain. The pain symptom ran down the top of her shoulder down to the outside of her biceps. Certain arm movements she made would bring on the pain instantly. She had been playing a court sport (tennis, racquetball, etc.) when she began feeling the pain. She had tried foam rolling her arm and shoulder as well as stretching the muscles in the area but to no avail. She tried gentle exercise but it was not going away.

Instead of focusing more attention on the area of pain we decided to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to see what else might be going on. Lo and behold we found that her right hamstrings and her left lats were very tight. Knowing that those areas connected up to her left shoulder it seemed plausible that excess tension in the hips and back could force the muscles around the shoulder to exert more force to compensate. After enough compensation the shoulder muscles begin to get irritated and inflame. This could cause pain to occur even though it was not the fault of the shoulder. Those muscles were just the overworked employees complaining about the slackers not carrying their share of the load.

We began moving her torso in all sorts of directions which indirectly created a stretch on the hamstrings and her lats. After a couple of minutes we checked in on her shoulder and a funny thing happened, the pain was gone. This is not meant to be a pat on the back story but to express the need to break away from the traditional approach of treating the victim of the crime and not the culprit. It wasn’t necessarily the hamstrings or for that matter the lats. It was how her body’s movement had altered to force the shoulder to compensate. If we can determine how someone’s body moves and compare it to how it should move then we can begin to unravel the mystery of their pain

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