Hamstring Muscle Strain
Anyone who watches sports knows that a “pulled hamstring” is a troublesome condition for athletes. The “hamstring” is actually a group of three muscles that help to straighten (extend) the leg at the hip and bend (flex) the leg at the knee. The “pull” is a strain or tear in the muscles or tendons.
Anyone can experience this injury:
- An adolescent athlete who is still growing.
- A professional athlete involved in football, soccer, skating, or running.
- Older athletes whose exercise program is primarily walking.
- Hamstring injuries are easier to prevent than to cure. But to understand what causes a hamstring injury, you first have to know how muscles work.
How muscles work
All muscles work in pairs to perform a task. One set of muscles contracts to exert force, while the other set of muscles relaxes. The hamstring muscles, located at the back of the thigh, work with the quadriceps muscle group, in the front of the thigh. When you want to bend your leg, the hamstring muscles contract and the quadriceps muscles relax. Conversely, when you want to straighten your leg, the quadriceps muscles contract and the hamstring muscles relax.
If one muscle group is considerably stronger than its opposing muscle group, the imbalance can lead to a strain. This frequently happens with the hamstring muscles. The quadriceps muscles are usually much more powerful, so the hamstring may become fatigued faster than the quadriceps. A fatigued muscle cannot relax as easily when its opposite muscle contracts, leading to strains.
Strains and tears
Muscle strains are overuse injuries that result when the muscle is stretched without being properly warmed up. It’s like pulling a rubber band too long. Eventually, the rubber band will either lose its shape or tear apart. The same options apply to muscles.
In young people, a different dynamic applies. Bones and muscles do not grow at the same speed. If the youth is experiencing a growth spurt, the bones may grow faster than the muscles. The growing bone pulls the muscle tight, and a sudden jump, stretch or impact can tear the muscle away from its connection to the bone.
Often the muscle pulls a piece of bone with it, an injury called an avulsion. If the hamstring tears near the hip, where it attaches to the pelvis, it may pull a piece of the lower part of the hip (ischium) away. This is a serious injury that may require surgery to reattach the muscle.
Recognizing hamstring injury
An injury to the hamstring is usually readily apparent.
- Mild strains may involve a simple tightening of the muscle that you can feel.
- More severe injuries may result in a sharp pain in the back of the thigh, usually in full stride.
- A rupture or tear may leave you unable to stand or walk. The muscle may be tender to the touch, and it may be painful to stretch your leg. Within a few days after a tear, the area may appear very bruised.
Treating hamstring injury
Remember RICE, and you will know the immediate treatment protocol for many sports-related injuries, including hamstring pulls or strains.
- Rest the affect area.
- Ice the injury.
- Compress the injury (Apply a bandage or other compressive device)
- Elevate the injury
- If the muscle is completely torn, surgery may be necessary to repair and reattach it. No treatment is complete without proper rehabilitation to strengthen and stretch the muscle.
Preventing hamstring injury
The best way to prevent a hamstring injury is to stretch, both before and after an activity. Weak or tight hamstrings can contribute to low back pain, so doing exercises to strengthen and stretch the hamstrings may also reduce your risk of low back pain.
Sit down and straighten your left leg. The sole of your right foot should rest next to the inside of your straightened leg. Lean slightly forward and touch your foot with your fingers. Keep your left foot upright with the ankle and toes relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with right leg.