The three hamstrings cover the back of the thigh and are formed from three muscles and their tendons. Two are down the inner side of the back of the thigh and one lies on the outer side of the thigh. Their function is to bend the knee and move the thigh backwards.
The hamstrings are not very elastic compared to other large muscles and in sport they are often under o lot of stress.
Some people can be born with short hamstrings and sometimes young peoples bodies seem to grow quicker than their hamstrings which can cause problems leading to injury, but usually in time body and hamstrings equal out.
An injured hamstring can take a long time to heal and further injury is common. However if full recover is achieved and sport not resumed too early this will lower the risk of further injury. Also stretching exercises should be done as soon as possible to speed recovery.
A minor hamstring injury may heal within about two weeks, but worse cases can take three months or more to recover.
causes of hamstring injuries
Hamstring injuries can be caused by the leg being suddenly extended fully, for example when kicking a ball or performing a kick in kick-boxing. Sprinting is another very common cause, for example sprinting suddenly without warming up, perhaps or the muscles are tight from a recent sprain, or the legs are fatigued from a hard training session the day before. Also a direct blow from a hockey stick or racquet can do the damage.
Overuse of the hamstring is especially common although it is usually more a `pull` or `strain` without actually tearing the muscles or tendons.
symptoms – what to look out for if you have injured your hamstring
If a muscle or tendon is torn or partially torn there will be sudden pain and sometimes a popping sound may be heard. There is usually swelling and bruising although it can be that bruising appears later. If the tear is severe a lump may form in the thigh and the injured area will feel tender when touched.
In overuse injury the pain comes on gradually when doing sport and progressively becomes worse.
healing and recovery
It is advised to seek medical advice to find out the extent of the damage. If it is only a minor tear a rehabilitation period may be all that is necessary, but this must be fully completed to achieve full recovery. As soon as the injury has happened, apply ice to the injured area, using a thin towel between ice and skin to prevent ice burn. Ice should be applied every two to three hours for the first two days to reduce pain and swelling. No weight should be put on the leg and you should rest with the leg elevated higher than he chest. This will enable blood and fluid to drain away from the hamstring injury. A bandage will give support and help reduce swelling, and the leg will feel more comfortable.
An important part of recovery is to start stretching exercises as soon as possible. If the strain is minor then exercising can start after two days from the injury happening. If there is still swelling and bruising, continue with the ice for one or two days until the swelling has disappeared.
Hamstring injuries can take a long time to heal and the risk of further injury becomes greater. However if full recovery is achieved and sport not resumed too early, the risk of further injury will be greatly reduced. Generally speaking overuse injuries tend to take longer to heal and recover. Depending on the extent of the injury a hamstring can recover within ten days or it can take up to three months.
It is important when you start stretching exercises that they are done every day, and when strengthening exercises are done, stretching must be done prior to these,ideally as part of the whole routine. If you have any tightness or stiffening of the hamstrings, try reducing the amount of exercises that you are doing, and if that doesn’t work, perform stretching exercises only. It is important that the muscles feel loose and that there is no discomfort. Until your leg is ready for resuming your sport, fitness levels can be kept up by swimming.
Stretching your hamstring to prevent injury
With your legs straight out in front of you, reach out with your hands and hold your feet, keeping your back straight and your head up. Move slowly and don’t bounce. When you feel the stretch hold this for five to ten seconds.
In a standing position, stand on one leg and place your other leg straight on a table or chair in front of you Lean forward and reach out to touch your foot again keeping you back straight and your head up. Hold this position when you feel the stretch and hold for about five to ten seconds.
Stand with you legs slightly apart and reach downwards to your ankles. Keep your back straight and you will feel the stretch. Hold this position for five to ten seconds.
Resistance exercises increase muscle tension and the joints do not have to move. Sit on the floor with you legs straight in front of you, knees bent, and then press your heel into the floor and count to five seconds. Always relax between each exercise.
Whilst sitting in a chair press you heel down into the floor and hold for five seconds. Again sitting in a chair, press your heal into the chair leg, hold for a count of five and then relax you leg.
Do the above exercise but while the heel is pushing against the chair leg, turn you foot into your other foot and feel the resistance, count to five and then relax.
Using weights for strength.
After your leg is stronger you can add some weights to build up more strength.
Firstly lay on your stomach and raise your leg about six inches. Do twenty lifts and then ten with a kilogram weight added to your leg.
Lay on your stomach and raise your leg by bending your knee as high as is comfortable and slowly lower to the floor. Do ten of these and then do ten with a kilogram weight added.
In a standing position put a kilogram weight on your ankle and raise your heel to touch your buttocks and lower being careful to keep a smooth slow action. Do twenty of these and then repeat with a two kilogram weight.
Preparing to restart you sport
Cycling, jogging, hopping and striding can all be done taking care to build up gradually. Running up stairs two steps at a time will build up strength and your stamina!
As long as care is taken and there is no discomfort and you resume your sport gradually, risk of further injury will be reduced.
prevention and protection
Always warm up adequately before your sport. This will bring blood and oxygen to the working hamstrings and will maintain flexibility and aid performance. If you feel any tightening in you leg at all, avoid any undue stress. It is difficult to play by half so if at all in doubt wait a day or two and then try again.