There’s nothing like a good stretch to ease stiff, sore muscles, right? Except when it makes things worse, which can happen if that tender spot is signaling a muscle tear.
Surprisingly, hamstring tears and strains happen quite often to yoga practitioners because of repetitive overstretching, especially when combined with insufficient strength in the muscle to counterbalance flexibility. Overstretching can cause micro-trauma or small tears (versus a big trauma like a large tear from a fall) in muscle, ligament, tendon, or other soft tissue of the musculoskeletal system. And once you’re injured, ongoing stretching can prevent healing, setting the stage for chronic or recurrent inflammation and pain, and making the affected tissue vulnerable to further tearing.
If you study common practice sequences, you’ll see that it’s easy to overdo stretching. Many sequences contain a high percentage of hamstring stretches, including some standing poses, standing forward bends, seated forward bends, and other back-of-the-leg stretches. On the other hand, hamstring-strengthening poses are typically practiced less often, so we’re missing out on their ability to build endurance in the actual muscle fibers. Working the muscle also creates strength and toughness in the tendons that attach the muscle to the bone, making them less likely to strain and tear.
See also 7 Poses to Help Release Those Tight Hamstrings
What you need to know about the hamstring
Let’s take a closer look at the three hamstring muscles. Each originates (attaches) on the sitting bones of the pelvis, and runs down the back of the thigh. There are two hamstrings on the medial (inner) side of the back of the thigh, and one on the lateral (outer) side; all three attach by long tendons crossing the back of the knee to the lower leg. Usually, a bit of midmuscle discomfort on the back of the thigh won’t cause problems. However, pay attention if you feel discomfort or pain near the sitting bones as you stretch or if you find it painful to sit for extended periods, especially on a hard surface. If this is the case, stretching the hamstrings during your practice will leave them sorer afterward, due to renewed microscopic tearing and painful inflammation.