In this installment of Test & Treat, we’re looking at the hamstring muscles and the sciatic nerve. We’re lumping these two together for two reasons. First, the tests are pretty similar. Secondly, and more importantly, many people believe they have tight hamstrings when the issue is often a tight sciatic nerve.
Quick disclaimer: These tests and exercises should only produce a tightness sensation. If you feel burning, tingling, numbness, or pain, this could be a sign of something more complicated and you should schedule an appointment.
Let’s do a quick anatomy lesson. Basically, there are three muscles that make up the hamstrings.
Biceps femoris: This muscle has two parts; the long head and the short head. The long head starts at the ischial tuberosity (the “sit bone” below your glute). The short head starts at the back of the femur (thigh bone). These two heads then join together and attach to the back outside of your leg, just below the knee. If you’re sitting, feel the tendon on the back outside of the knee. That’s the long head of the biceps femoris.
Semimembranosus and semitendinosus: These two muscles attach below the knee as well, on the inside back of the leg. Again, if you feel around that area, you should be able to feel two of the tendons. The smaller tendon is the semitendinosus while the larger one is the semimembranosus. Both of these muscles attach to the ischial tuberosity proximally.
As you might be able to guess from their attachments, these hamstring muscles will flex (bend) the knee and extend the hip. So from walking to biking to squatting, you’ll basically use these muscles anytime you use your legs.
Sciatic Nerve Anatomy
Now it’s time to learn about the sciatic nerve. In the middle of your pelvis, there’s a web-like structure of nerves called the sacral plexus. One of these nerves that form from the sacral plexus is the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve then basically goes from the posterior glute area, down the back of the leg along with the hamstrings, and eventually splits into two separate nerves; the common fibular nerve and the tibial nerve. The sciatic nerve is actually the longest and thickest nerve in the human body.
Many people are familiar with the term sciatica and/or sciatic pain. Technically, sciatica is just a general term for pain that radiates down the leg. It COULD involve the sciatic nerve, but it is usually caused by other issues. So if you have sciatic pain, don’t assume it’s the sciatic nerve.
Testing and Treatment for the Hamstrings and Sciatic Nerve
Most of the information is in the video, so I’m going to let it do the talking here.
Let’s go over a few key points from the article and video
- If your hamstrings are tight (less than 70-90 degrees of movements), stretch them several times daily
- If your hamstrings aren’t tight, quit stretching them. Focus on something else. (check out your ankles or hip flexors maybe)
- If adding nerve tension makes a big difference in mobility, then work on nerve flossing several times daily.
- If you fail both the hamstring and sciatic nerve tests, then you’ll have to do both exercises.
- If you are having pain with these tests/exercises, or the exercises aren’t helping with mobility, then it’s probably time to schedule an appointment or find a professional near you.
I hope that helps! Again, please let us know if you have any questions or if you have a request for another muscle or body part.
Jeff Remsburg, DC, MS, DACRB, Cert. MDT