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Hamstring Strain

Originally published Jun 24, 2010

What Is It?
The hamstrings job is to extend the hip, bend the knee, and decelerate and stabilize the knee while walking or running.  Because the hamstrings have an affect on the low back, the pelvis, the hip, and the knee joint, they have an important job.  Most hamstring injuries occur where the muscle meets the tendon.  When the hamstring is injured, the fibers of the muscles or tendon are actually torn. The body responds to the change by producing enzymes and other chemicals at the site of injury. These chemicals produce pain and swelling to protect the muscle and stimulate healing.  In a severe injury, the small blood vessels in the muscle can be torn as well.  The result is bleeding and severe bruising can occur.

What Causes It?
Hamstring injuries happen when the muscles are abruptly placed under too much tension or stretched too far.  Sprinting, jumping, or fast twisting motions of the legs are common causes of traumatic hamstring injuries.  Running too many hills, too much speed work, or a sudden increase in mileage can cause an overuse hamstring strain.
Following is a list of predisposing factors:

  • Weakness in the hamstrings and gluteals are a common risk factor
  • Poor flexibility of the hamstrings or an improper warm-up before running
  • Increasing running volume/intensity too quickly and/or over training
  • Playing cutting sports in addition to running
  • Muscle imbalance in the core/hips, trigger points in the low back and hamstrings
  • Low back referral, tension in your sciatic nerve, and poor core strength
  • Poor biomechanics with running, improper bike fit (seat too high or too far back)
  • The wrong shoes for your foot type, or shoes that are too worn

How Can I Fix It?
It is very important to treat and rehabilitate your hamstring injury correctly.  Hamstring injuries will recur without proper treatment.  A sudden muscular injury can take 4-8 weeks to heal and an overuse tendon injury can take up to 3-4 months to heal completely.  Knowing the reason for the injury and giving the muscle time to heal are the keys to success

  • The first 3-5 days use the RICE method. Rice = Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications may help early on but can delay healing if overused – talk to your Doctor about how to use medicine properly
  • Once pain allows, correct the muscular imbalances that contributed to the injury
  • Only stretch when it is pain free.  Gently gliding the sciatic nerve is more effective
  • Appropriately strengthen the hamstring once pain allows (start very light)
  • Cross train including swimming, cycling, aqua jogging, and hiking
  • Deep tissue massage, self massage with a ball/foam roll, gentle tendon massage
  • Kinesiotape to support the muscle (the kind of tape the Olympic athletes used)
  • Core strength to help decrease low back and hamstring tension
  • Treating the low back is essential to healing a hamstring strain/preventing re-injury
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