The hamstrings consist of three muscles in the back of your thigh called semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris. They serve to bend your knee and extend your hip. Also known as a pulled or torn hamstring, a hamstring strain is a tear of the muscle fibres within this group of muscles. The severity of the injury varies depending on how large the tear is and how many muscle fibres are involved. The size of the tear often comes with a larger degree of pain and longer recovery, but this is not always the case.
Hamstring strains are commonly caused when your muscle is overloaded, rapidly stretched or excessively stretched. They are commonly seen in sports that involve rapid movements such as kicking, sprinting, and jumping. Your hamstrings have to work hard to rapidly produce force to propel you forward when running and jumping or to slow the movement as you kick. Progressing exercises too quickly and lifting weights that are too heavy can also produce enough overload to cause a tear.
Common symptoms of hamstring strain include:
- Sudden pain in the back of your thigh.
- Bruising and swelling.
- Pain with activities that stretch or contract your hamstrings such as walking, bending or kicking.
- Loss of strength when bending your knee or extending your hip.
- Reduced range of motion of your knee or hip.
In the early stages of treatment, our physiotherapists aim to facilitate healing as best as possible so you can progress to strengthening the muscles to regain full function. This may include RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), crutches if needed or gentle range of motion exercises.
Following your individual presentation, we can begin a progressive strengthening program. Strengthening the hamstring muscles helps to regain what has been lost, prevent further deterioration in strength and works towards prevention of future injuries. The largest risk factor for a future strain is a previous hamstring strain.
Your recovery journey will depend on the severity of the tear. This typically takes 4-6 weeks, but can be longer depending on the severity. During this period, improvements in strength and function vary between patients, but beginning your rehabilitation process early is important.
Common hamstring rehabilitation exercises include isometric contractions, bridges, hamstring curls and Romanian deadlifts. As your rehabilitation progresses, you may be introduced to higher level exercises, including hamstring bridges, Nordic hamstring curls, and running and kicking drills. These all load the hamstrings in different ways and result in a stronger and more durable muscle.
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