What is the Hamstring, Exactly?
The hamstring is a group of muscles located at the back of the thigh. These muscles work together to bend the knee and extend the hip. The hamstring is one of the most commonly injured muscles in athletes.
Hamstring injuries can range from a mild strain, which can heal on its own with rest and ice, to a complete tear, which may be treated with surgery. A minor hamstring injury may cause only a brief period of pain and discomfort, while a more severe injury can lead to long-term problems.
What Can Cause Hamstring Injuries?
There are several things that can contribute to a hamstring injury for athletes, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Muscular imbalance: This occurs when the muscles around the hips and thighs are not evenly developed. This can put extra stress on the hamstring and make it more susceptible to injury.
- Poor flexibility: If the muscles around the hips and thighs are tight, they may not be able to move through their full range of motion. This can also lead to extra stress on the hamstring and make it more susceptible to injury.
- Overuse: Repeatedly doing activities that put strain on the hamstrings can predispose them to injury. This is often seen in athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of running or jumping.
- Sudden change in direction: Sudden changes in direction, such as those in soccer, football, and basketball, can put stress on the hamstrings and lead to injury.
What Athletes are Most at Risk?
While hamstring injuries can occur in any athlete, those who participate in sports that require a lot of running or jumping are at the highest risk. This includes athletes such as soccer players, football players, and track and field runners. But baseball, tennis, hockey, rugby, and lacrosse players can also be at high risk. Furthermore, any athlete or active individual can be “at risk” if they have poor flexibility, muscular imbalance, or play a sport that puts stress on the hamstrings.
What Are the Symptoms of a Hamstring Injury?
The most common symptom of a hamstring injury is pain in the back of the thigh. This pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp, burning sensation. Other symptoms can include:
- Muscle soreness/weakness
- Difficulty straightening the knee or walking
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a qualified healthcare provider as soon as possible.
What Can Athletes Do to Prevent Hamstring Injuries?
Preventing hamstring injuries is important for all athletes, especially those who are most at risk. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent all hamstring injuries—or prevent athletic injuries in general—there are some things that athletes can do to lower their risk.
Some simple injury prevention tips include:
- Warming up properly before activity
- Stretching regularly
- Wearing supportive shoes that fit well
Cross-training and strengthening the muscles around the hips and thighs can also help to prevent hamstring injuries.
What Should You Do If You Think You Have a Hamstring Injury?
If you think you may have a hamstring injury, it is important to see a qualified healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment. Attempting to self-treat a serious injury can often make it worse.
If you’ve experienced a hamstring injury, it’s important to seek medical attention and follow the recommended treatment plan. This will help you heal properly, recover from injury faster, and prevent further injury.
For most athletes, this will mean taking some time off from their sport to allow the injury to heal. Depending on the severity of the injury, this could be a few weeks or a few months.
If you have a more severe hamstring injury, such as a tear, surgery may be an option. Surgical interventions are usually only recommended in the most severe cases, for example, for athletes who have a complete tear of the hamstring muscle. However, only a qualified healthcare provider can determine if surgery is a good option for you.
Recovering from a Hamstring Injury
Rehabilitation is a vital part of an athlete’s recovery from a hamstring injury. A physiotherapist can help athletes create a rehabilitation program that is specifically designed for their needs. This may include exercises to improve range of motion, flexibility, and strength.
After the injury has healed, it’s important to slowly return to activity and gradually increase your level of participation. This will help you avoid re-injury and allow your muscles and tendons to adapt to the stresses of your sport. Athletes who have experienced a hamstring injury should work with a qualified healthcare provider to create a safe and effective return-to-sport plan.
Hamstring injuries are common in athletes, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, most people can make a full recovery. If you think you may have a hamstring injury, don’t hesitate to see a qualified healthcare provider.