What are Hamstring Injuries?
The hamstring is a group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh from the hip to the knee. Hamstring injuries occur when these muscles are strained or pulled. They are common in dancers and athletes of all sorts including runners and those who play football, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc.
Causes of Hamstring Injuries
Major causes of hamstring injuries can be:
- Sports that require sprinting or running with sudden stops or stretching
- Activities such as dancing that requires extreme stretching
- Incomplete healing of prior hamstring injury
- Poor hamstring flexibility (or hamstring tightness)
- Muscle imbalance (front muscles of the thigh stronger than hamstring)
Signs and Symptoms of the Condition
The major sign of a hamstring injury can be a sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh. Other symptoms include:
- A popping or tearing sensation in the thigh
- Swelling and tenderness within a few hours of injury
- Pain in the back of the lower buttock when walking
- Bruising or discoloration along the back of the leg
- Muscle weakness leading to an inability to put weight on the injured leg
What If Hamstring Injuries are Left Untreated?
If untreated, hamstring injuries may lead to prolonged and chronic pain in the thigh, and eventually result in permanent muscle dysfunction.
How is the Condition Diagnosed?
Your doctor will begin the diagnosis with a physical exam including moving the injured leg into a variety of positions. Your doctor may also look for:
- Tenderness and/or swelling along the back of the thigh
- Damage of ligament or tendon in the back of the thigh
Additionally, your doctor is likely to order certain imaging tests such as X-ray and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to confirm and determine the severity of the condition.
Treatment of Hamstring Injuries
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Initially, your doctor may recommend simple, self-care measures such as:
- Complete rest to allow the hamstring injury to heal
- Use of ice packs to reduce swelling and relieve pain
- Wrapping the injured area with a compression bandage to minimize swelling
- Elevating the injured leg above the heart level to minimize swelling
- Over-the-counter medications to reduce pain and inflammation
- Immobilization with a splint to help the injured leg heal
- Use of a cane or crutches to avoid weight on the injured leg
After the initial pain and swelling subside, your doctor may opt for physiotherapy involving specific exercises to improve flexibility and strengthen the hamstring muscles. However, surgery may be required in severe cases such as a total tear of the hamstring muscle.
Most people are known to recover to full function after completing a rehabilitation process.
Prevention of Hamstring Injuries
Regular stretching and strengthening exercises coupled with conditioning can be the first step towards preventing hamstring injuries. Other factors that can help in preventing hamstring injuries include:
- Warm up exercise before physical activity
- Stretching after physical activity
- A gradual increase in the intensity of physical activity