By in Sports Injury

Common Hamstring Problems

hamstring problems

During the seasons some areas are more problematic than others. The hamstring is unfortunately not one of those, and likes to act up all year! Now just like every type of injury to tissue in the body the more pressure it’s under, the more likely there will be damage. The outlines of this blog will be to identify those more prone to injuring their hamstrings, the types of hamstring injuries, and how you can prevent them.

The hamstring muscles are located on the back of your upper leg and attach from the lower part of your pelvis down to the back of your knee. Their actions primarily are to flex their knee and extend their hip. You would extend your hip when jumping for instance; as you leave the ground your hamstrings (among other muscles) contract and pull your legs back to help that drive upwards. Flexing the knee is simply bringing your feet up to your buttocks. Now knowing what the hamstring does, we can understand which types of activity focus more on the hamstrings and therefore are more prone to hamstring injuries.

A hamstring injury is a strain or a tear to the tendons or large muscles on the back of your upper leg. There are 3 grades of hamstring injury:

  • Grade 1 which is mild muscle strain or pull
  • Grade 2 a partial muscle tear
  • Grade 3 a complete muscle tear

Recovery from a hamstring strain or tear depends on how severe the injury is. Recovery can take a few days (if you have a grade 1 injury) to weeks or months for a grade 2 or 3.

The most common hamstring issue for any individual always seems to be at the origin of the muscle, attaching just under the buttock. This often means there is tendinopathy and can linger for a while if untreated, even years. The best thing to do if you feel a dull ache in that area is to get in touch with us as soon as possible to prevent any long-term damage.

A hamstring injury can occur if any of the tendons or muscles have been stretched beyond their limit. This can often occur during sudden, explosive movements, such as sprinting or lunging. An injury can also occur more gradually during slower movements that over-stretch your hamstring. It is not uncommon that you injure your hamstring if you have already injured it before, especially in athletes and sportsmen.

How do I know if I’ve injured my hamstring?

  • Mild hamstring strains (grade 1) will usually cause sudden pain and tenderness in the back of your thigh. It may be painful to move your leg, but the strength of the muscle shouldn’t be affected.
  • Partial hamstring tears (grade 2) are usually more painful and tender. There may also be some swelling and bruising at the back of your thigh and you may have lost some strength in your leg.
  • Severe hamstring tears (grade 3) will usually be very painful, tender, swollen, and bruised. There may have been a “popping” sensation at the time of the injury and you’ll be unable to use the affected leg.

Rest and Recovery

Recovering from a hamstring injury may take days, weeks, or months, depending on how severe the strain or tear is.
A completely torn hamstring (grade 3) may take several months to heal and you’ll be unable to resume training or play sports during this time.

Initial Treatment

During the first two or three days, you should care for your injury by following the steps below, also known as ‘RICE’.

  • Rest – keep your leg as still as you possibly can and avoid physical activity.
  • Ice – apply cold packs (a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel will also work) to your hamstring for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours during the day. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin as it can ‘burn’ your skin.
  • Compression – compress or bandage the thigh to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage.
  • Elevation – keep your leg raised and supported on a pillow as much as possible, this will help reduce any swelling.

Gentle Exercises and Stretches

Returning to strenuous exercise too quickly could make your injury worse, but avoiding exercise for too long can cause your hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissue to form around the tear.

To avoid this, you should start doing gentle hamstring stretches after a few days, when the pain has started to subside.
This should be followed by a program of gentle exercises, such as walking or cycling. Maybe specific hamstring strengthening exercises will also help. Many people need to avoid sports for at least a few weeks, but the length of time you need off will depend on the severity of your injury.

Because of my background working with a large group of runners over the years, I’ve often seen issues related to running. The more common scenario is intensity running or hill running as these activate the hamstrings more by driving the body forward; extending the leg back. When training for intensity by engaging in sprints or hill sessions always be sure to warm up first. Getting the muscles warmed up is very important especially in the winter as it will prevent any sudden strains. The analogy that comes to mind for warming up muscles is how spaghetti has the same basis – when your muscles are warmed up they become elastic and flexible. Uncooked spaghetti is stiff and brittle and will snap in half when you try to break it, but once cooked it’s soft and malleable. It bends this way and then that, without breaking. Although a terrible analogy, I hope it makes sense to you!

As well as warming up, it’s also important to ensure you progress the levels of speed and distance you work on. As mentioned earlier, the more pressure the tissue is under the more likely it could damage. Also, consider power exercises in a gym or at home with your own equipment to join speed and strength together. Running on its own is never a great idea so for intensity/hill training I would advise power training exercises with a good frequency each week. For more information on what types of exercises to do or how often please get in contact, we’ll give you any advice you need.

This article was written by Kieran Mote SPORTS THERAPIST. BSC.

For more information on sports injuries and treatments please contact The Body Matters on 01702 714 968. 

Make an enquiry