What is a pulled hamstring or hamstring strain?
A hamstring strain or a pulled hamstring as it is sometimes called is a tear in one or more of the hamstring muscles. Strictly speaking there are three hamstring muscles (Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps Femoris) which are known as the hamstring muscle group.
The role of the hamstring muscles is to bend (flex) the knee and to move the thigh backwards at the hip (extend the hip). Understanding how the hamstrings work give vital clues as to their modes of injury. Mild to severe hamstring strains are extremely common in sprinters and hurdle jumpers and in all sports that involve sprinting activities, such as football and rugby.
During sprinting the hamstring muscles work extremely hard to decelerate the tibia (shin bone) as it swings out. It is in this phase just before the foot strikes the ground that the hamstrings, become injured as the muscles are maximally activated and are approaching their maximum length.
A pulled hamstring rarely manifests as a result of contact -if you have taken an impact to the back of the leg it should be treated as a contusion until found to be otherwise.
- A sudden sharp pain at the back of the leg during exercise - most probably during sprinting or high velocity movements.
- Pain on stretching the muscle (straightening the knee whilst bending forwards).
- Pain on contracting the muscle against resistance.
- Swelling and bruising.
- If the rupture is severe a gap in the muscle may be felt.
What can the athlete do?
It is vitally important that treatment for a pulled hamstring starts immediately following injury. The most important phase for treatment is the first 48 hours post-injury. In this time the following can be carried out by the athlete themselves:
- Use Cold Therapy (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) technique.
- Use a compression bandage to minimize intra muscular bleeding.
- Early mobilization of the injured lower limb is vital for the correct rehabilitation of the muscle. This includes stretching and strengthening exercises throughout the pain free range. These can aid with decreasing the swelling in the area. In addition, exercise will ensure that any new material will be laid down in correct orientation thus reducing the risk of subsequent injuries.
- See a sports injury specialist.
What can a Sports Injury Specialist do?
- Use sports massage for hamstrings to speed up recovery. Sports massage is important in the treatment and rehab of hamstring muscle injuries as massage helps correct new muscle fiber realignment and minimizes scar tissue. In addition massage can increase the blood flow to the injured area.
- Use ultrasound and other forms of electrotherapy.
- Prescribe a rehabilitation program.
- Advise on specific stretches.
- Provide mobility aids such as crutches.
- Provide an MRI scan to ascertain the amount of damage sustained.
- In severe ruptures surgery may be needed to repair the damage.