Treating a Hamstring Strain
The three large muscles of the hamstring run down the back of the thigh and connect to the femur, the hip, the knee, and the bones of the lower leg. These three muscles are supported by several smaller muscle groups, and all of these muscles and ligaments interact in a complex way that supports every motion that involves standing, walking, running and jumping.
These large muscles are very strong—they’re among the strongest in the body—but they’re also subject to occasional strains, tears, and damage. In fact, a pulled hamstring or hamstring strain is one of the most common sports injuries, especially among athletes who engage in running and jumping. Runners, dancers, soccer players and tennis players often experience hamstring strain injuries, and many of these tend to occur during activities that involve high speed motions with sudden stops or sudden changes of direction.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of a pulled hamstring can help an athlete decide when it’s okay to treat a hamstring strain at home and when it’s better to make an appointment with a doctor.
Pulled Hamstring Symptoms
When a severe hamstring strain takes place, the problem is usually clear right away. In the midst of sudden motion or intense activity, an athlete may experience sharp, stabbing pain in the back of the thigh. In some cases, the pain may be accompanied by a feeling that can be described as a tear or pop.
In less severe cases, the pain may be noticeable only after the moment of activity is over and there may be no distinct sensation of tearing. In either case, the pain will usually increase during the next several minutes or hours. The athlete may also find it very difficult to put weight on the leg or to walk more than a few steps at a time. In some cases, but not all, the back of the leg may become bruised, swollen and discolored over the course of about an hour.
Most of the time, a hamstring strain can be successfully treated at home and if the injured area receives the rest and attention it needs, the leg will heal on its own with no complications. But if you experience severe, unmanageable pain after a hamstring strain, or the inability to walk for more than four steps, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention right away. A doctor will probably recommend an ultrasound or MRI scan to make sure the damage is correctly identified, and in the case of a severely torn muscle or ligament, surgery may be necessary for a full recovery.
Pulled Hamstring Treatment
If the pain of a pulled hamstring is unpleasant, but manageable, and if the injured athlete can take more than four steps, the hamstring strain can usually be successfully treated with the RICE principles described below.
1. Rest the leg as much as possible. Discontinue the training session, run, or other activity that led to the strained muscle and sit or lie down to take the pressure off the damaged area. Depending on the severity of the strain, it may be a good idea to stay off your feet as much as possible for the next few days. Return to previous activity levels gradually. Recognize that applying too much strain to the muscles before they’ve completely healed can actually re injure the area, or make the existing injury worse.
2. Apply an ice pack to the back of the leg and hold it there for twenty minutes at a time. Do this repeatedly for about three or hours each day as the injury heals. Use a bag of frozen vegetables or frozen meat, or wrap ice cubes in a plastic bag covered by a towel to protect the skin from damage.
3. Compress the upper leg with a snug ace bandage or compression wrap in order to prevent swelling and keep fluid from building up around the injured muscle tissue.
4. It’s difficult to elevate the leg above the level of the heart, but sitting and lying down can help ease the blood flow to the area and speed the healing process.
5. If the pain is difficult to manage, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications available over the counter, like Motrin or Aleve. Don’t take more than the recommended dose and pay attention to potential side effects.
Pulled Hamstring Recovery
Most of the time, a pulled hamstring muscle will heal on its own within about four to six weeks. The more attention and rest the injured area receives, the higher the chances the injury will heal without complications. It’s better not to rush a hamstring strain or any strained muscle back into intense activity. Before resuming a normal training routine, make sure you can place your weight evenly on both sides of the body and bend the leg in all directions without pain.
As the hamstring strain heals, try stretching the area gently every day and completing mild exercises that help the damaged muscles recover their full range of motion. A doctor or physical therapist can recommend exercises specific to your injury, but almost any gentle stretch will help keep the healing muscle fibers aligned and facilitate blood flow to the area.
Pulled Hamstring Prevention
In the meantime, there are a few simple ways to prevent a pulled hamstring injury in the first place. Start by making sure your training gear—especially your shoes—are in sound condition and not weak or worn out. Try to avoid excessive training on hard or concrete surfaces. Then work on building strength, balance, and condition in the large muscles of the upper leg, lower leg, and core. The principles of resistance and suspension training can support balanced development in these muscle groups. Try adding the resistance benefits of Kbands training equipment to your normal routine, and using the KB Duo suspension system for strength training at least two or three times per week. For more information about how the Kbands, KB Powerbands and KB Duo can help support performance and prevent injury, explore the products tab towards the top of the website.