Knee pain results from a complex series of biomechanical interactions. The hamstrings muscle group, located in the back of the leg, helps support the knee. This supporting role makes these muscles a key factor in knee-injury protection and knee-pain prevention. Malfunctioning hamstrings create faulty movement patterns, which affect the alignment and health of your knees.
The collective muscle group called the hamstrings consists of the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. They originate under your sitting bones, and attach behind the knee, making them crucial to knee stability.
The hamstrings bend the knee, and move the leg behind your body. They activate during walking, running and jumping. In a January, 2008, edition of "Orthopedics," Dr. Timothy E. Hewett, director of the Sports Medicine Biodynamics Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, explains why female athletes are more prone to knee pain and injury. Women tend to have stronger quadriceps than hamstrings. This muscle imbalance causes them to land from a jump with their knees straight. This landing mechanism does not allow the hamstrings to flex and protect the knee.
While some people believe that stretching is the solution to hamstring-related knee pain, Vern Gambetta, owner of Gambetta Training Systems, warns against the dangers of hyper-flexibility, and suggests that joint integrity should never be compromised in favor of excessive flexibility. Overstretching your hamstrings may affect joint stability, leaving your knees vulnerable to pain. Be sure to balance your stretching with strength training.
Faulty interactions between the hip flexors, hamstrings and gluteal muscles may also cause knee pain. When the hip flexors tighten because of excessive sitting, the gluteal muscles weaken. Jennifer Lewis, a physical therapist at Athlete's Performance in Los Angeles, explains that when the glutes weaken, the hamstrings take over their job While they normally assist the gluteal muscles, they take on the role of prime mover. They are usually not strong enough to assume this task, so they are eventually overloaded and strained. A strained hamstring offers inadequate knee support, so knee pain ensues.
Preventative exercise are crucial to healthy knees. Keep your hip flexors flexible with stretching exercises, and perform hamstring exercises such as the leg curl to keep your knees stable. Ask a fitness instructor to assess your posture. If you tend to hyperextend or lock your knees, you may be overstretching and weakening the connection between your hamstrings and the back of your knee.