PT on the Net Research

Spinal Surgery: Hamstring Flexibility


Question:

Two weeks ago, I had spinal surgery, which consisted of the decompression around L5-S1. I have pain around the area that was operated on, which is to be expected. However, I was wondering if you could recommend any good exercises to help me get the flexibility back in my hamstrings as I feel this is now restricting my range of movement, now that the pain radiating down my leg has gone.

Answer:

Hamstring tightness is a universal problem. Probably 90 percent of the clients and athletes I work with have less than good flexibility in their hamstring group. Your question is how to improve flexibility? The answer? Stretch.

Most people feel that stretching is a waste of time. If they are not pounding iron or cranking up their heart rates, then it isn't worth doing. Most serious athletes, martial artists and dancers spend time specifically on stretching. Flexibility may not prevent an injury, but it will help improve range of motion and help the person perform movement with less restriction from themselves.

Flexibility is extremely important for people who have a back injury or have had back surgery. Complete bed rest was once recommended for such problems. This prescription is seen as archaic and has been replaced with movement as soon as possible. Part of the movement pattern includes stretching. The muscles that need the most work include the hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and extensors, erector spinae group and the trunk muscles.

In my opinion, there is no single stretch for the hamstrings. If you find a position of comfort for your back while stretching your hamstrings, then you will stretch. If it always hurts when you stretch, it is unlikely you will stretch. A few stretching positions that work well for most people include: standing with one foot elevated (try different foot heights) and lean forward with your chin up. While seated on the floor, pull one foot in to the inner thigh of the leg that is straight and lean forward with your chin up. You may even have someone kneel behind you and push you "lightly" forward. Also, sit on the hamstring curl bench and let one leg dangle over the side while stretching the straight leg, which is on top of the bench. Allow your knee to bend slightly so as to relieve the pressure in your lower spine.

Most information suggests stretching after the warm up. Another suggestion is to stretch at the end of your workout when your muscles are tired and less resistant to elongation. It is also less painful. Give it a try and don't be afraid to modify things to fit your individual needs.

Also, check out the many stretches in the PTN Flexibility Library.

Reference:

  1.  Deyo,R. Low-Back Pain. Scientific America Aug.1998