For individuals experiencing tightness in the lower back and hamstrings, can utilizing the sit and reach test help determine an individual’s risk for future pain and injury?
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Sit and Reach Test
Lower back and hamstring tightness and pain symptoms are usually brought on by muscle stiffness. The sit-and-reach test is one of the most common ways to measure lower back and hamstring flexibility. Exercise physiologists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and fitness trainers use the sit-and-reach test to measure lower back and hamstring flexibility to assess baseline flexibility. The test has been around since 1952 (Katharine F. Wells & Evelyn K. Dillon 2013) and has an extensive database of results across all age groups and genders.
- Individuals can use the sit-and-reach test to compare flexibility to the average result for individuals of the same gender and age.
- For healthcare providers, the test may be repeated after several weeks to determine flexibility progress.
The test can be a valuable measurement of functional flexibility to sit with the legs straight in front and reach the toes. Jobs, sports, and everyday tasks regularly require bending over, reaching, and lifting objects. These are real-life examples of how having a healthy back and hamstring flexibility is vital in preventing pain symptoms and injuries. New flexibility assessments are currently being developed, and many trainers and therapists use their own versions with patients and clients. But even with more advanced specialized flexibility tests, the sit and reach test can be a functional testing tool for tracking general flexibility changes over time. (Daniel Mayorga-Vega et al., 2014)
Performing The Test
A special sit-and-reach testing box is used; however, individuals can make their own testing box by finding a heavy-duty box around 30cm or 11.811 inches tall. Set a measurement ruler/stick on top of the box so that 26 cm or 10.2362 inches of the ruler extends over the front edge toward the individual being tested. The 26cm mark should be at the edge of the box.
- Get into position – Remove shoes and sit on the floor with legs stretched out in front with the knees straight and feet flat against the front end of the test box.
- Start the movement – In a slow, steady motion, lean forward, keeping the knees straight, and slide the hands up the ruler as far as possible.
- Stretch and repeat – Extend as far as possible, record the results, rest, and repeat three times.
- Calculate the results – Average the results.
Results compare flexibility over time to norms, or averages, for gender and age. Adequate flexibility is reaching the toes – the 26-cm mark on the ruler while keeping the legs straight.
- 37cm or 14.5669 inches or above: Excellent
- 33 to 36cm or 12.9921 inches: Above average
- 29 to 32cm or 11.4173 inches: Average
- 23 to 28cm or 9.05512 inches: Below average
- Below 23cm or 8.66142 inches: Poor
- 34cm or 13.3858 inches or above: Excellent
- 28 to 33cm or 11.0236 inches: Above average
- 23 to 27cm or 9.05512 inches: Average
- 16 to 22cm or 6.29921 inches: Below average
- Below 16cm or 5.90551 inches: Poor
Individuals can test their own hamstring and lower back flexibility with some easy at-home tests. Use these methods while working on flexibility, and keep a record to see improvements. (Brittany L. Hansberger et al., 2019) One alternative is the V-sit reach test.
- To perform this, make a line on the floor with tape, then place a measuring tape perpendicular to the tape, making a cross.
- Sit with the feet in a V shape, touching the tape, feet about a foot apart, with the measuring tape between the legs; the 0 end starts where the legs part.
- Overlap hands with arms outstretched in front.
- Repeat three times, leaning forward and reaching with hands out.
- Then, repeat and take note of how far the hands could reach.
Another alternative is the fingertip-to-floor-distance test.
- Individuals will need someone to measure the distance between their fingertips and the floor.
- Warm up with a few practice stretches of standing and bending toward the floor.
- Then, measure how far from the floor the fingertips are.
- The ability to touch the floor is a good sign.
Individuals with less than adequate flexibility are recommended to work on stretching the major muscle groups in both the upper and lower body on a regular basis to improve and maintain body flexibility.
- Individuals can incorporate dynamic stretching, which consists of active movements utilizing a full range of motion as part of warming up for workouts, sports, or other activities.
- Static stretching is recommended when cooling down after the muscles are warmed up and joints are lubricated.
- The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 2 to 3 sessions a week of flexibility training and learning to stretch daily.
- Stretches should be held for 15 to 30 seconds, then released and repeated 2 to 4 times. (Phil Page 2012)
This will take time and dedication, but with the help of trained specialists, regaining flexibility and full range of motion can be accomplished.
Benefits of Stretching
Katharine F. Wells & Evelyn K. Dillon (1952) The Sit and Reach—A Test of Back and Leg Flexibility, Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 23:1, 115-118, DOI: 10.1080/10671188.1952.10761965
Mayorga-Vega, D., Merino-Marban, R., & Viciana, J. (2014). Criterion-Related Validity of Sit-and-Reach Tests for Estimating Hamstring and Lumbar Extensibility: a Meta-Analysis. Journal of sports science & medicine, 13(1), 1–14.
Hansberger, B. L., Loutsch, R., Hancock, C., Bonser, R., Zeigel, A., & Baker, R. T. (2019). EVALUATING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CLINICAL ASSESSMENTS OF APPARENT HAMSTRING TIGHTNESS: A CORRELATIONAL ANALYSIS. International journal of sports physical therapy, 14(2), 253–263.
Page P. (2012). Current concepts in muscle stretching for exercise and rehabilitation. International journal of sports physical therapy, 7(1), 109–119.
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