The Hamstring Towel or Strap Stretch

Use a Towel to Safely Stretch Your Hamstrings

A towel can be used to help stretch your hamstrings.
Use a towel to safely and effectively stretch the hamstrings. Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Tightness in your hamstrings? Check in with your physical therapist to learn the best stretches for you. Your PT may prescribe the hamstring towel stretch for you. Stretching your hamstrings with a strap or a towel is a simple and effective way to keep this muscle group moving normally and to prevent injury.

Anatomy and Function of the Hamstrings

The hamstring muscle group is located in the back of your thigh and is responsible for bending, or flexing, your knee.

There are three distinct muscles that make up the hamstrings: the semimembranosus, the semitendinosis (part of the pes anserine), and the biceps femoris. Since the hamstrings also cross your hip joint in the back of your thigh, they also serve to help your gluteal muscles extend your leg during activities like running and walking.

Common Injuries to the Hamstrings

One way to help minimize injury to the hamstrings is to maintain flexibility in this muscle group. Common injuries to the hamstrings may include:

  • Muscle strains or tears
  • Overuse injuries
  • Tightness due to sciatica (a condition known as an adhered nerve root (ANR)

Tightness in this muscle group can cause cramping in the back of the thighs and may limit your range of motion when trying to straighten your knee. Stretching the hamstrings after athletic activity can also help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in these muscles.

There are many different ways to stretch your hamstrings. The standing hamstring stretch can be done anywhere, and the buddy hamstring stretch is an effective way to stretch if you have a friend or family member available to help.

The Hamstring Stretch with a Strap or Towel

An easy exercise to do that can safely and effectively stretch your hamstrings is the towel hamstring stretch.

It is one of the simple towel stretches and you need a towel to do it. If you don't have one handy, you can use a strap or even your belt. Be sure to meet with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise program.

Here is how to perform the towel hamstring stretch:

  1. Obtain a towel, a strap, or a belt and lie flat on your back.
  2. Loop the towel around your foot so that you are holding both ends of the towel.
  3. Slowly pull on the ends of the towel and use it to lift your leg into the air. Be sure to keep your knee staight. The leg without the towel should remain flat on the ground.
  4. Bring your leg up until a stretch is felt behind your thigh. You may also feel a stretch behind your lower leg in your calf. This is normal. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, and then slowly release the stretch.
  5. Repeat this process 3 to 5 times on each leg.

Remember that the towel hamstring stretch should feel good as you are doing the exercise; if it causes pain, stop immediately and check in with your physical therapist.

The towel hamstring stretch can be performed just about anywhere, and you can do this stretch 2 to 3 times per day. You may perform this stretch as part of your physical therapy home exercise program, or it may be done as an injury prevention exercise to keep your hamstrings functioning properly, allowing for full pain free movement.

Keeping your hamstrings moving may be an important part of your exercise program to help you recover from injury or reduce the likelihood of injury. Give the towel hamstring stretch a try, and if you need further instruction, your local physical therapist may be able to help guide you.

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