Hamstring injuries are the most common sports injury and they do tend to recur. They don’t just happen during organised sport though; you can injure your hamstrings in a variety of ways.
Team sports are banned right now to limit the spread of the coronavirus but we are able to go out for a daily walk or run, do a workout via YouTube or start kickboxing in the garden.
It’s great to be active during lockdown. It’s good for both your physical and mental health. But, if your exercise routine has changed – particularly if you’re trying out a new form of exercise – then you need to be careful not to injure your hamstrings.
What Are Your Hamstrings?
Your hamstrings are a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh from your hip to just below your knee.
Your hamstrings help you walk, run and jump. It’s these muscles that enable you to extend your leg behind you when walking or running, bend your knees to sit down or land after scoring a goal in netball.
You use your hamstrings often, both everyday movements and in sport. And when they get injured, you realise just how much you rely on them.
What Causes a Hamstring Injury?
A pulled hamstring happens when you move in a way that abruptly stretches your muscle fibres.
Hamstring injuries are common among people who play sports like tennis, basketball, soccer, which involve sudden bursts of speed. Runners, dancers, skaters and skiers may also experience hamstring injuries.
- You don’t warm up properly before exercising
- Your muscles are tight, weak or imbalanced
- Your footwear isn’t suitable
- Your muscles are tired
- You’ve had a previous hamstring injury that hasn’t fully healed.
How Severe Is a Hamstring Injury?
Hamstring injuries range in severity depending on how badly the muscle is affected. There are three stages of hamstring injury:
- Grade 1: It hurts but it’s not that bad, just a sense of pulling or aching in the back of your thigh. You might not even remember exactly when the injury happened.
- Grade 2: Something happened and you felt an immediate sharp pain in the back of the thigh or up near your buttocks. The area may be swollen and tender and it’s hard to walk.
- Grade 3: Your muscle has completely ruptured or torn. You may have even heard it pop. It’s painful and swollen. Thankfully, this degree of hamstring injury is rare.
How Do You Treat a Hamstring Injury?
Firstly, stop whatever you were doing when the injury happened. This is not the time to power through to the end of your workout (you probably can’t anyway).
It’s always hard for fit, active people to limit their movements! But, right now, your hamstring needs rest. Resting now will aid your recovery. That’s better in the long run.
RICE or METH?
No, these are not more things to panic buy during the pandemic! Hopefully, you have some rice already and you definitely don’t need meth. These acronyms stand for two different approaches to treating hamstring injuries.
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, elevation. It’s been around since the 1970s and is quite entrenched in our treatment protocols. But it’s out of date. During the intervening 50 years, we’ve learned that, beyond its initial benefits as a form of pain relief, applying ice is counterproductive.
Ice reduces inflammation – that’s why its use was recommended. However, we now know that inflammation is a core part of the body’s healing response. Inflammation happens because your body is sending extra blood to the site, delivering vital chemicals, proteins and cells to promote healing of injured tissue. Applying ice stops all that. It’s like locking the supermarket’s loading bay just as a truck full of toilet roll, pasta and tinned tomatoes arrives.
That’s why we now recommend METH, which stands for movement, elevation, traction and heat. Once you’re able, you move carefully, reduce swelling by resting with your leg elevated, use traction to manage pain and spasms, and apply heat packs to encourage healing blood flow.
How long does it take to recover from a hamstring injury? That depends on how badly you’re hurt. A minor strain will usually start feeling better in a few days. A major injury may need several months of rehab.
How Do You Avoid Re-Injuring Your Hamstring?
The best way to avoid re-injuring your hamstring is to give yourself time to recover fully from your current injury. We know that’s hard, especially if you’ve been depending on a regular run to help manage your stress.
Once you are able to exercise freely again, we recommend:
- Warming up and cooling down properly
- Regularly performing hamstring stretches and strengthening exercises
- Starting slowly – see how you go on a light jog before you try a run
- Drinking water
- Wearing the right footwear for your exercise
- Consider a program of prehabilitation to prevent further injury.
How Can We Help?
As sports physiotherapists, we treat many patients with hamstring injuries, helping you get back on both legs again and return to the activities you love.
If you’ve hurt your hamstrings, please call us on (07) 5571 2222. We will work out how best to help you, based on the government’s advice to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 outbreak.