Hamstring (or ‘hammies’) strains are some of the most commonly seen sporting injuries. They can happen to any and every type of athlete from runners, soccer or basketball players to skateboarding or surfing.
But what is a hamstring? Unbeknownst to most, the ‘hamstring’ is not a single muscle or ‘string’. It is a group of 3 muscles that allow the body to perform knee flexion and hip extension. They get the name ‘Hamstrings’ because butchers used to hang pig carcases by these strong tendons.
During a hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles gets stretched too far. The muscles might even start to tear. You’re likely to get a hamstring strain during exercise that involves a lot of running and jumping or sudden stopping and starting.
What does a hamstring strain feel like?
More mild cases may not hurt too much, with symptoms only manifesting under increased stress (weights, sprinting etc.)
More severe cases can be agonizing, making it impossible to walk or even stand.
Other possible symptoms of a hamstring strain are:
- Sudden and severe pain during exercise, along with an audible snapping or popping
- Pain in the back of the thigh and lower buttock when walking, straightening the leg, or bending over
- Inability to weight bear on affected leg
- Tenderness and/or
What causes a hamstring strain?
Typically a strain can occur from two primary reasons. Firstly poor eccentric (lengthening under contraction) strength will result in a tear in the muscle during deceleration of the lower limb during running.
Secondly an over stretch of the muscle cause from shortening in the muscle itself, or excessive external force such as falling awkwardly with the leg out front.
Secondary reasons include:
- Poor running mechanics. This consists primarily of overstriding or poor pelvic control, which puts the hamstrings in a vulnerable position at ground contact.
- Improper warm-up. Your warm-up must be active and dynamic to prepare the hamstring muscles for the forces involved. Passive stretching is only one segment of warm-up.
- Inappropriate training loads. Your hamstrings are primarily fast twitch Type II fibres that fatigue quickly. High speed work should be done early in workout, as close to warm-up as possible to avoid fatigue.
- Fatigue (neural and local muscle).
- Lower back pathology. Abnormalities of the lumbar spine or poor pelvic control that can cause nerve dysfunction and subsequent muscle weakness can predispose you to injury.
- Poor playing surfaces. A wet slippery surface will put more strain on the hamstring due to slipping.
How can I help my hamstring strain?
Applying R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) is essential. Cold therapy should be applied as soon as possible to help to quickly stop any internal bleeding. Ice can be applied for 10 to 15 minutes every hour initially reducing frequency as pain and swelling goes down.
Seek the help of a musculoskeletal therapist. An MST will help grade the severity of the strain as well as provide treatment and advice on healing. A thorough physical assessment will identify any underlying causative factors that may be problematic in recovery and prevention of further injury.
- A general body warm up, which includes sport-specific muscle stretching as well as sport specific skill drills.
- Ensure there is sufficient conditioning of the hamstring in regards to dealing with specific stresses applied to it;
- Including appropriate speed work in training programs so the hamstring muscles are capable of sustaining high acceleration forces.
- Maintaining high levels of cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance to prevent fatigue.
- Stretching and cooling down after every training session and competition.
- Including stretching and strengthening exercises in weekly training programs.
- Allowing adequate recovery time between workouts or training sessions.
- Wearing the right protective equipment including footwear.
- Checking the sporting environment for hazards.
- Drinking water before, during and after play.