Read below about hamstring tightness, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your hamstring tightness from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Hamstring Tightness Symptoms

The hamstrings, colloquially known by gym-buffs as the "hammies," are the group of muscles that run down the back of your leg to your knee. They function to extend the hip and bend the knee, helping with movements such as standing, walking, running, and jumping.

Feeling tightness in your hamstrings can be quite the hindrance to your everyday life. This is one of the reasons people fear "leg day" at the gym; a few hours of exercise can lead to days of soreness and tightness in the back of your thighs, which makes it more difficult to walk. This is not to mention the pain and discomfort associated with tight or cramping hamstrings, which can feel magnified due to their size.

And finally, a fun fact: the name "hamstrings" has nothing to do with ham at all. "Ham" is an old word for the bend of the knee, with the "strings" portion referring to the tendons of the muscles themselves, which you can feel on the back of your knee.

Hamstring tightness may be associated with these common symptoms:

  • Pain with flexion of the knee or extension of the hip
  • Discomfort
  • Difficulty walking or running

Hamstring Tightness Causes Overview

In general, most hamstring tightness is not cause for concern, but usually a result of overuse from exercise or from minor injury.

Mechanical causes:

  • Overuse: Running, weightlifting, or other exercise activities may cause delayed- and progressive-onset tightness in the four days following the activity. This is the result of the healing process in which your body fixes and strengthens the muscles.
  • Strain: Minor to severe tears of the muscle fibers of the hamstrings (usually due to over-exercise) can lead to sudden-onset tightness and pain.
  • Trauma: Trauma to the back of the leg can result in bruising within the muscles, leading to irritation and tightness.

Other causes:

  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough water when you exercise can lead to shifts in your electrolytes and resultant muscle tightness and cramping.
  • Nerve irritation: Irritation of the nerves that control the hamstrings can lead to spasm and tightness.

3 Potential Hamstring Tightness Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

    The kneecap (patella) is located directly in front of the thigh bone (femur), and should normally glide freely up and down. In this condition, called patellofemoral pain syndrome, the kneecap may rub against the thigh bone instead of gliding smoothly, causing damage and pain.

    Most people get better within weeks to months of physical therapy.

    Top Symptoms:
    knee pain, pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, dull, achy knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when squatting
    Symptoms that always occur with patellofemoral pain syndrome:
    knee pain
    Primary care doctor

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  2. 2.Knee Bursitis (Pes Anserine Bursitis)

    Pes anserine bursitis is an inflammatory condition of the knee.

    Days to weeks (up to 8 weeks)

    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one knee, knee pain that gets worse when going up stairs, spontaneous knee pain, knee pain that gets worse when going down stairs, knee pain that gets worse when standing up
    Symptoms that always occur with knee bursitis (pes anserine bursitis):
    pain in one knee
  3. 3.Hamstring Strain

    A strain, commonly called a "pulled muscle," is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. A hamstring strain happens when one of the muscles on the back of the upper leg (thigh) is pulled.

    Most low grade strains should recover within 1 week.

    Top Symptoms:
    spontaneous back pain, pain in the back of the knee, hamstring tightness, sports injury, hamstring pain
    Symptoms that always occur with hamstring strain:
    hamstring pain
    Symptoms that never occur with hamstring strain:
    groin pain, hip pain, pain in the outside of the hip, difficulty moving the hip

Hamstring Tightness Treatments and Relief

Most hamstring tightness is the result of overuse of the muscles, leading to delayed-onset tightness and discomfort as the muscles repair themselves. This should resolve naturally with time and can actually be partially prevented by stretching before exercise. However, if you experience sudden-onset pain and tightness in the back of your legs during exercise, you should consider seeing a physician.

At-home hamstring tightness treatments:

  • Rest: Most hamstring tightness will resolve with rest, allowing the muscles to recuperate.
  • Stretching: Simple, at-home stretching of the muscles can help speed their recovery. One example stretching exercise is performed by touching your toes while keeping your legs straight.
  • Massage: Massage and rolling of the muscles can help relieve hamstring tightness.
  • Ice or Heat: Ice packs or heat pads can help reduce hamstring tightness by relaxing the muscles.
  • Medications: Tylenol or NSAIDS such as ibuprofen can help reduce the pain and discomfort of hamstring tightness.
  • Hydration: Dehydration after exercise can lead to muscle cramping and tightness. Consider drinking some extra water or an electrolyte solution to help post-exercise recovery.

Professional hamstring tightness treatments:

  • Physical Therapy: The most common professional treatment for hamstring tightness is physical therapy, which involves stretches and exercises to work the muscles back into shape.
  • Imaging: Imaging is rarely required for tightness but may be used to evaluate for muscle strain in the case of severe sudden-onset pain and tightness.
  • IV Fluids: Intravenous fluids or electrolyte solutions may be used in the case of tightness caused by dehydration.
  • Medication: Muscle relaxants can be prescribed for severe or chronic muscle spasms.

You should seek help without delay if you have:

  • Extreme difficulty or inability to walk
  • Sudden-onset and severe hamstring pain during exercise

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Hamstring Tightness

  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.Which of the following describes your physical fitness:
  • Q.Do your symptoms get worse when you exercise?
  • Q.While you are standing, take a look at your knees. Do they appear to bend towards each other, rather than follow a straight line along your legs? (Knock-kneed)

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our hamstring tightness symptom checker to find out more.

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Hamstring Tightness Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced hamstring tightness have also experienced:

    • 15% Lower Back Pain
    • 12% Hamstring Pain
    • 4% Hip Pain
  • People who have experienced hamstring tightness were most often matched with:

    • 15% Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
    • 4% Knee Bursitis (Pes Anserine Bursitis)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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