Your Pain Pattern,
What Aggravates It,
The Underlying Anatomy
How to Get relief,
How People Describe This Pain Pattern
Want to skip ahead?
Here’s a link to my post about
getting relief on your own.
These people grab their hamstring and talk about how painful it is. They are often quite careful about not stretching their hamstrings too aggressively. Also, the back of the thigh often cramps when flexing the knee to touch the heel to the hip. Runners use this motion to stretch the quads.
I’ve seen a lot of this problem over the years, especially from runners. Their hamstring goes into a painful spasm even though they continue to stretch it as directed. This condition can be debilitating and discouraging. The problem is complicated as the usual stretches offer little or no lasting relief.
Driver’s and Theater Goers, too
This pattern is a problem for people who are seated for long periods too. They often get pain in the back of the hip or the calf instead.
The problem is that the seizing hamstring is a referral pattern of another muscle, the gluteus minimus. The gluteus minimus is on the side of the hip. Right where the asterisk is in the illustration. I’ll help you see that seizing hamstring pain is the referral of the gluteus minimus and not the lateral hamstring itself.
Let’s elicit the pattern for the hamstring first. One easy way to stimulate trigger point referral is to stretch the muscle. Lay on your back, straighten your knee and stretch your hamstring by pulling your leg back toward your chest while keeping the knee straight.
You can focus the stretch on the outside hamstring. First, turn the toe out with a strap that wraps around the outside of the ankle. Next, pull the foot a little toward the opposite shoulder.
That’s right! You feel it behind the knee!
This is the referral pattern for the lateral hamstring. When this trigger point is active, it creates pain behind the knee. You can also elicit this pattern by pressing into those spots with a foam roller or tennis ball. When you hit the trigger points, You’ll feel it in the back of the knee.
This aggravation can create a “satellite trigger point” in the hamstring. So, I often offer a stretch for the hamstring as well.
How You Activate and Intensify This Pain Pattern
Sometimes, this trigger point produces a cramped hamstring during driving. People are focused on having legroom where they can stretch out. This position generally slides the hip forward in the seat and makes the trigger point more active and the pain worse. It is tough to convince them differently. They think that stretching the hamstring will help.
Instead, the gluteus minimus stabilizes the hip when you are seated. The fibers near the front corner of the hip stabilize the pelvis while seated. You can see how this muscle connects to the front of the hip and the front of the femur bone.
While running, this muscle has two important jobs. First, it stabilizes the hips to keep them level when the other leg lifts to swing forward. Second, it helps to pull the leg forward when other hip flexors are not working well. But it is the hamstring that hurts. As a result, these runners often develop a stride with more motion in the hip and less motion in the knee. Consequently, the hip is overworked and the hamstring cramps get worse.
Activities that wobble the hips side to side tend to aggravate this. When the hip is flexed, it is worse. So, cycling or leaning into the stair climber can be killer. Hiking uphill over uneven ground is also a problem. By the way, the pain often flares up a day or two later.
See for Yourself
Now, let’s elicit the pattern from the gluteus minimus. Before you get started, look at the picture above to see where you should place the ball. Then, lay the tennis ball on the floor. Next, lay on the tennis ball so that it presses into this spot. You may need to squirm around on it a bit to find the specific location. Most people guess too far back and need to turn onto their side with the ball farther forward. Notably, several trigger points in this area produce different pain patterns in the hip and down the leg.
You can watch me do this in the self-care video.
Getting Relief on Your Own
This post has strategies for getting relief on your own. Explore how to change your activities, stretch, and other strategies that relieve the pain associated with this trigger point.
Therapy Notes for Massage and Bodywork
Through Shared Expertise
This post has techniques, tips, treatment routines, and anatomy illustrations to improve the bodyworker’s approach.
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Tony Preston has a practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he sees clients. He has written and taught about anatomy, trigger points, and cranial therapies since the mid-90s.
*This site is undergoing significant changes. We are reformatting and expanding the posts to make them easier to read. The result will also be more accessible and will include more patterns with better self-care. In the meanwhile, there may be inconsistencies in formatting, content presentation, and readability. Until we get older posts updated, please excuse our mess.