Your hamstrings are the three muscles on the back of your thigh, the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and the biceps femoris. These three muscles start at the base of pelvis and cross behind the knee joint and attach near the top of the lower leg.
Hamstring injuries can be described as a pull, a partial tear or a complete tear and are caused by overloading or overstretching the muscle or its attachments. Attempting too much weight, stretching beyond capacity or sprinting without warming up and stretching are the most frequent causes of a “pulled” (injured) hamstring.
There are several factors that increase your risk of pulling a hamstring:
- Tight muscles. Warming up and increased stretching to improve flexibility.
- Muscle imbalances. If your quadriceps, the muscle group that opposes your hamstrings, is stronger than your hamstrings, the resulting imbalance increases your risk of injury.
- Weak muscles. When challenged, untrained or weak hamstrings are unable to handle the stress and pull or tear.
- Overtraining leads to fatigue of muscle fibers which are then more likely to become injured.
Several sports and activities have been shown to be at higher risk including football, soccer, basketball, sports involving sprinting, classical dance and older, more inflexible trainees.
Treatment varies by type and severity, but should begin immediately, if you suspect a partial or complete tear seek emergency medical treatment.
Start with R.I.C.E short for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- Rest the injured hamstring and avoid weight bearing.
- Use cold packs or ice wrapped in towels and apply to the injury for periods of 20 minutes.
- To reduce swelling, wrap your injured hamstring with elastic compression bandages.
- Elevate the injured hamstring above the level of your heart.
- Immobilize the injury and avoid movement or weight bearing.
Additional therapies that may prove beneficial include:
- Sports massage. Deep tissue massage will help realignment of muscle fibers and minimize scar tissue. Massage enhances blood flow in the injured and will promote healing.
- Ultrasound therapy. Ultrasound produces heat within the tissues and promotes healing of ligaments, tendons and scar tissue and may reduce pain and muscle spasms.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation. A variety of treatments and approaches to healing working with a physical therapist.
- Static stretching. Once the immediate injury is stable and healing begins, static stretching with no bouncing will help restore flexibility and prevent shortening of the muscle fibers.