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Heat and Stretch Work Best for Increasing Hamstring Muscle Length

Do your hamstring muscles feel tight? If they are, a new treatment combination may be just what you need.

The hamstrings are located along the back of the thigh to the back of the knee. Muscles sometimes shorten up after an injury and may become resistant to stretching. Sometimes inactivity is enough to tighten up a muscle. Physical therapists and athletic trainers often combine heat and stretching to help patients recover lost motion.

Clinicians want to know what form of heat works best. Researchers from the Athletic Training Program at Brigham Young University looked at the effects of one form of heat on muscle flexibility. Pulsed short wave diathermy (PSWD) was combined with stretching. Three groups of university students with tight hamstrings were part of the study. The first group had diathermy and stretching. The second group had a sham diathermy (the machine wasn't actually turned on) with stretching. The third group was the control group. They rested on the table for 20 minutes, but received no heat or stretching.

Groups one and two were treated once each day for five days in a row. Hamstring length was measured with the subject lying on his or her back. The hip was bent 90 degrees and the knee straightened as far as possible. The angle of the knee was measured with a special tool called a goniometer. Anyone with less than 160 degrees of knee extension was considered to have tight hamstring muscles.

The authors report that the diathermy plus stretching had a much better result than the sham diathermy or the control group. In fact, the diathermy-and-stretch group had an increase of three times as much motion as the other two groups. There really wasn't much difference between the sham diathermy group and the control group.

The results of this study may have some impact on treating patients with tight hamstrings. This is especially true for cases of tightness caused by inactivity or immobility. PSWD as a form of deep heat is a valuable tool when used with static muscle stretching.

David O. Draper, EdD, ATC, et al. Shortwave Diathermy and Prolonged Stretching Increase Hamstring Flexibility More Than Prolonged Stretch Alone. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. January 2004. Vol. 34. No. 1. Pp. 13-20.


*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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