Hamstring Strain

What is Hamstring Strain?

To understand hamstring injuries, we must understand what hamstrings are and their role in our bodies. Hamstrings are groups of muscles running down the back of our legs and thighs. The three main hamstring muscles are – the semimembranosus, the biceps femoris, and the semitendinosus. When these muscles are strained too much, they tear.

That’s why whenever your leg muscles get overloaded, the risk of you suffering from a hamstring strain increases. People who experience such strains do so while participating in activities that involve a lot of sprinting, dashing, running, jumping, and other sudden movements.

This condition is technically a muscle strain injury that athletes in soccer, football, track, etc., often suffer from. Damages to the hamstring group of muscles are classified based on their severity. Minor strains are categorized as “Grade I tear.” They tend to be mild and heal fully, causing minor pain to the injured.

A “Grade II tear” is one where the hamstrings are partially ruptured or torn. The muscle or tendon fibers are overstretched and on the brink of complete rupture. A “Grade III tear” is when the hamstrings rupture completely. Irrespective of the Grade, hamstring damages can be severe and incapacitating for patients.

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Hamstrings are groups of muscles running down the back of our legs and thighs. The three main hamstring muscles are – the semimembranosus, the biceps femoris, and the semitendinosus. When these muscles are strained too much, they tear.

Symptoms of Hamstring Strain

Since our hamstrings support most of our physical movements (walking, jumping, stretching), they instantly limit our mobility when they become tight. When it comes to Grade III tears, we don’t need symptoms. Patients instantly notice a popping sound in their legs, and that means their hamstrings are completely ruptured.

In Grade I tears, the patients’ leg muscles can feel stiff, even after resting. Such stiffness increases the risk of higher-grade injuries. Patients must visit a physiotherapist to learn about the health of their hamstrings if they experience symptoms such as:

  • Constant cramps in the legs.
  • Pain in the backside of the thigh.
  • Thighs are swelling up at night.
  • Tenderness or redness in the back of your leg.
  • Muscle spasms.
  • Bruising in the calf or in the back of the knee.

If these symptoms worsen over time, the damaged muscles are not fully healing on their own. To ensure your “Grade I tear” doesn’t become “Grade II,” you must visit a licensed physiotherapist.

Causes of Hamstring Strain

The main cause of this condition is the hamstring muscle fibers becoming over-strained or abruptly stretched due to physical activities. People experience a “pull” in their legs. They can feel this “pull” anywhere in their muscle-tendon anatomy. Some common reasons why people suffer from hamstring injuries are –

  • Not warming up and preparing the hamstring muscles for intense physical activities.
  • Stretching in undesirable directions.
  • Muscle weakness due to other health issues.
  • Imbalance in muscle strength (specifically within the hamstring muscles) due to lack of proper exercise, poor eating habits, etc.
  • Wearing unsuitable footwear.
  • Recurrent injuries as the hamstring muscles haven’t completely healed past damages.

In “Grade I” strains, people usually don’t remember or recognize the actual cause of the injury. The onset of pain is gradual and nonspecific. “Grade II” strains occur during acute events, and victims instantly experience sharp pain in the back of their thighs. “Grade III” strains are mostly caused because of athletic injuries.

When to See a Physiotherapist to Fix Hamstring Strain?

Patients with hamstring injuries can visit general-medicine doctors, primary care physicians, and experts specializing in athletic injuries. They can also visit physiatrists or physical therapists who specialize in treating tight hamstrings. Their non-surgical treatments can loosen the muscles. Patients shouldn’t waste time visiting these experts if -  

  • Their tight and damaged hamstrings limit their mobility.
  • They experience intense pain in their thighs and calf muscles throughout the day.
  • Their muscle weakness makes it difficult to walk or stand.
  • Their thighs and calf muscles swell up.

If these symptoms occur, they may indicate serious injuries. The damage to their hamstrings may worsen over time. People who experience these symptoms after sporting injuries or physical accidents must seek medical attention.

Hamstring Strain – Key Risks and Complications 

The main risk factor for this condition is quick muscle contractions during bursts of speed. That’s the most prominent risk of hamstring injuries. Whenever you forcefully stretch your quadriceps and hamstring muscles, they are at risk of damage and rupture. People who are at most risks of these strains include:

  • People who have suffered from previous injuries in their hamstrings.
  • Chances of hamstring injuries are almost three times higher for people below 25 as they’re likely to engage in intense physical activities.
  • Recipients of leg surgeries like ACL reconstruction.
  • Weak muscles lead to deficits in hamstring strength, making them more prone to ruptures. That’s why lethargic and overly fatigued people frequently suffer from these injuries.
  • People with muscular rigidity and flexibility issues (e.g., neural stiffness in the back region) are likely to suffer from hamstring injuries.
  • People with poor alignment and movement patterns (e.g., workers carrying heavy loads up a mountain).

How to Prevent Getting Hamstring Strain?

Since these injuries are often caused due to factors that are hard to quantify (tight muscles, poor flexibility, etc.), we cannot prevent all hamstring injury risks. But, by taking some steps, you can become less prone to these injuries -

  • Routine stretching to promote muscular flexibility (home fitness programs, yoga classes, etc.).
  • Develop resilience of the hamstring muscles by focusing on single-leg exercises.
  • Lengthen the hamstring muscles by performing flexibility exercises before/after intense physical activities.

Treatments for Hamstring Strain

Moderate hamstring injuries can heal independently as long as patients rest their legs and apply ice to the damaged areas to reduce pain and swelling. Repeat these home remedies until the pain is gone. If the pain persists, visit a physiotherapist. These professionals -

  • Design customized treatment programs specific to the exact nature of the patient’s injuries and recovery objectives.
  • Provide manual therapy to improve the hamstring muscles’ flexibility and strength.
  • Teach range-of-motion exercises that make the hamstring muscles feel less stiff over time.
  • Teach muscle strengthening exercises, targeting specific areas of weaknesses.
  • Functional training right before the patients have to return to fulfilling demanding activities.
  • If the hamstring injury is too severe and requires surgical treatment, physiotherapists communicate with surgeons to develop postoperative rehabilitation strategies.

Related Conditions

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injuries and Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) injuries also happen in the thigh and knee areas. ACL, MCL, and hamstring injuries are very common ailments for athletes.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the prognosis for these types of injuries?
The length of recovery varies. Patients may have to stop partaking in intense physical activities for four to ten months, depending on the severity of the hamstring muscle injuries.
2. Can people walk with strained hamstrings?
Yes, but it’s not advisable.
3. Do I need surgery?
Depends on the injury grade. Most Grade I and II hamstring injuries can be treated non-surgically.

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