Hamstring Strain

Hamstring Strain

They’re unfortunately quite common and re-injury rates are high! I’ll explain hamstring muscle strains and how to manage them.

What is it?: The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of your thigh that cover your hip and knee joint. They can become strained (torn) when some or all of the muscle fibers fail to cope with the demands being placed on them. The severity of the strain will be diagnosed as either a grade 1, 2 or 3 and this will correlate with a different recovery time and rehab process.

The cause: The hamstring muscles are most likely to tear during a sudden acceleration or deceleration action, for example, sprinting or kicking, or an extreme movement like doing the splits. Factors that increase the risk include increasing age, muscular imbalance and in particular a history of a previous hamstring strain. 

Signs & symptoms: It usually starts with a sudden onset of pain in the hamstring area and you may feel a snapping or popping sensation. It is then painful to walk, straighten the leg or to bend over and feels tender to touch and may bruise.

Confirm diagnosis: A physio can usually confirm the diagnosis from the symptoms you describe and a few tests including resisting the knee bending. An MRI can be helpful in confirming the diagnosis and degree of strain, but isn’t always necessary, unless a total rupture is suspected.

How to treat it: The first 48 hours after injury should involve general rest, ice, compression and elevation with some early pain-free muscle contraction exercises started under the guidance of a physio. The physio will then start you on a rehabilitation program involving stretching and strengthening exercises of not only the affected hamstring, but the supporting muscles, in particular the glutes. They will also perform soft tissue treatment such as massage and dry needling to help increase the tissue healing. They will then guide you through a return to play exercise program specific to your sport. The risk of re-injury is high, in particular in the first 2 weeks of return to sport and highlights why working with a physiotherapist will be very important during recovery. To find a physio in your area of Australia or New Zealand click here.

In regard to preventing hamstring strains from occurring, I recommend working with a physio or a strength and conditioning coach to target key areas including the glutes and core so that the hamstrings aren’t overloaded. My favourite starting exercise is a basic bridge, where you lay on your back with feet hip-width apart, lift your hips by pushing through your heels and squeezing your glutes. Repeat this 10 times, 2 sets, 5 times a week as a starting point.

Products: I particularly like the LP Support ice bags with wrap that allow you to ice the muscle while leaving your hands free to do other things. A thigh compression sleeve or compression wrap will also be helpful in the initial stages. You can check out my product selection guide with LP support for more specific recommendations for hamstring strains.

Recovery time: There are several factors that can affect the return to play for each grade of hamstring strain, so this should always be individually guided by a physiotherapist. As a very rough guide, the recovery time for a grade 1 strain is up to 3 weeks, grade 2 is up to 8 weeks and grade 3 is 12+ weeks and in severe cases, surgery may be warranted.

For more specific rehab exercises you can check out my hamstring rehab guide and remember to sign up to my mailing list or follow me on Facebook or Instagram for regular physio tips.