The hamstrings are the 3 muscles that make up the back of the thigh, including the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris. These muscles allow you to bend your leg at the knee.
Yet, hamstring strains can be fairly painful. They often arise during activities that require frequent sprinting bouts followed by frequent stops or pivots. It’s not uncommon for runners, dancers, soccer players, basketball players, football players, or tennis players to experience a hamstring strain.
How Will I Know if I Have a Hamstring Strain?
A mild hamstring strain normally involves sudden pain and tenderness on the back of your thigh. You may feel slight pain when you move your leg. However, this level of hamstring injury should not affect the strength of your muscle.
A partial hamstring tear is more painful. The muscles will feel tender to the touch. Swelling and bruising at the back of your thigh will likely be visible. And you will likely feel weakness in your leg.
Severe hamstring tears are the most painful and serious of the hamstring injuries. The thigh will be obviously swollen and bruised. A popping sensation often happens at the onset of injury. It is also unlikely that you will be able to use your affected leg or weight bear on your affected leg.
Causes of Hamstrings
A hamstring strain injury often occurs when any of the tendons or muscles are stretched beyond their normal limits. It is a common spot to re-injury. And it most commonly occurs due to overuse of the muscle.
Strains or tears happen when the muscle is lengthened as it contracts or as aforementioned, it’s pulled past its normal limits. For instance, sprinting requires a lot of work from the hamstring muscles. These muscles contract repeatedly. This constant loading of the muscle may lead to a strain or injury. The injury may manifest as a sudden pain or snapping sensation in the back of the thigh. Your leg may feel weak and tender. And you may see slight bruising in the affected area.
How to Prevent Hamstring Strain
Hamstring injuries usually arise during sports or physical activity. However, there are various ways you can reduce your risk and prevent a hamstring strain from happening. The following are tips to prevent a hamstring strain or injury:
- Make sure to perform an appropriate warm-up. Perform dynamic leg movements and stretches. These can help get the blood pumping and the muscles effectively warmed up.
- Gradually increase your glute and hamstring exercises. This gradual increase includes duration, weight, and intensity. Avoid doing too much, too soon. A slow and gradual ease into sports or activity is recommended. Aim to follow the 10% rule in increasing the intensity or duration of your workout.
- Try running backwards as part of your regular routine. This method helps to balance the glutes and hamstring muscles while strengthening the muscles around the knees.
- Do not continue your activity if you feel pain in the back of your leg.
- Regularly strengthen and stretch your hamstring muscles.
Basic Treatment for Hamstring Strain
Once you’ve experienced a hamstring strain, there is a high risk of recurrence. For this reason, it is crucial to get proper treatment. The following is basic treatment for a hamstring strain:
- Rest - Rest is important in the early stages of recovery. During this time, avoid any painful exercise or movements. Avoid weight bearing activities if they are painful.
- Ice or Use a Cold Compress - Put ice or a cold compress device on the affected area. Do not exceed 20 minutes, and make sure to apply a cloth in between the ice pack and your skin. A cold compress may also reduce pain and swelling in traumatic soft tissue like hamstring sprains
- Medication - Oral medication, such as ibuprofen or analgesic, can help reduce your pain. Applying topical gel can also ease the pain associated with a hamstring strain. It is recommended to discuss your options with your doctor first, since they know you and your condition best.
- Supportive Tape - Kinesiology tape usually used by a physiotherapist reduces muscle pains and acts as a support to prevent injury or reinjury. Other supportive tapes available are rigid strapping tape, commonly called sports tape and elastic strapping tape. Please seek a licensed physiotherapist, so that they can advise you on which supportive tapes are best to suited to your condition and injury.
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) - This is a medical device that stimulates the nerves. It may help you with modest short-term pain relief. It is important to use the TENS machine as directed by your doctor or licensed physiotherapist.
- Surgery - In severe cases, surgery is considered for a hamstring injury. If you undergo hamstring surgery, several months of rest and physical therapy sessions might be needed.
Ice Pack / Cold Compress
Ice is critical part of the initial treatment stage for many injuries. It helps reduce pain and swelling. It is often recommended to apply the ice pack or device for 15-20 minute intervals, leaving at least 45-60 minutes in between applications. Always make sure to place a cloth in between the ice and your skin to prevent skin damage.
At Back to Sport, we have many products available to meet your icing needs. We recommend the Mueller Reusable Cold/Hot Pack or the Vulkan Ice Bag. For ice and compression, the TalarMade Thigh Cold Compression Therapy can provide dual action to help you get back to your normal.
Taping can get you back to your regular activities faster and with the necessary support to prevent re-injury. Consider having a healthcare professional, such as your physiotherapist, show you how to apply the tape correctly for your specific condition or injury.
We recommend the basic Gripit - Kinesiology Tape 50mm x5m in any colour.
TENS can help reduce your pain levels, making you feel better. Again, we recommend asking your healthcare professional or physiotherapist to show you the ropes on usage and intensity. We have various TENS products, such as the NeuroTrac Rehab.
To regain strength, your physiotherapist may recommend you use a resistance band to perform your prescribed exercises. We recommend the Theraband Resistance Band Loop.
An exercise ball may also be used for glute bridges and hamstring curls. For exercise balls, we recommend the Theraband Exercise Ball Pro Series.
The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The indications provided are not a prescription and cannot substitute the recommendation of a health practitioner. We recommend that you seek the advice of your GP, physiotherapist or health practitioner before buying any item on Back To Sport.