How to Prevent and Treat Hamstring Injuries
Hamstring injuries are common, but most people make a full recovery. It’s even better to know that you can prevent most strains and tears by following a few easy steps. Learn more about your hamstrings and how to keep your legs in top shape with this guide.
Background on Hamstrings
1. Know your hamstrings. The hamstrings are really a set of three muscles that run down the back of your thigh. They start at the bottom of your pelvis, run across your knee, and end at your lower leg. You use them to bend your knee and extend your leg back.
2. Know the range of potential injuries. Injuries can include a strain, pull, or tear. Strains are graded from 1 to 3 depending on the severity. The most severe injuries occur when the tendon tears completely away from the bone.
3. Spot the symptoms. Common symptoms include sudden pain, discoloration, swelling, and weakness. Your leg may hurt when you walk or bend over.
4. Understand eccentric contractions. You may know someone who hurt their hamstring while sprinting. That’s because muscles are especially vulnerable during any eccentric contraction where they’re extended while carrying a load, like your body weight, at high speed.
Steps for Preventing Hamstring Injuries
1. Stretch correctly. Loosening up your muscles is the best prevention. Warm-up and perform static stretches before any workout.
2. Aim for balance. The quadriceps in the front of our thighs are usually stronger than our hamstrings. Movements like lunges and leg presses help to even things out.
3. Exercise regularly. Better conditioned muscles can hold more stress. It’s one more good reason to maintain an active lifestyle.
4. Intensify your workouts gradually. A good rule of thumb is to intensify your workout by 10% or less each week. You’ll run less risk of damage.
5. Get adequate rest. It’s okay to give yourself a day off from the gym when you’re tired. Fatigued muscles need time to recover.
6. Take extra care during adolescence. The teen years are characterized by growing spurts where some body parts get ahead of the others. Young athletes need to get plenty of rest and use good form.
Steps for Treating Hamstring Injuries
1. Rest your leg. Keep the weight off your injured leg even if you need to use crutches. Be gentle until all pain is gone and the full range of motion is restored.
2. Apply ice. During the first few days, ice can help reduce pain and swelling. Apply it for about 20 minutes every few hours.
3. Compress and immobilize the area. If your leg is swollen, your doctor may suggest that you wear a compression bandage or knee splint. It will help you heal faster.
4. Elevate your legs. Stick a pillow under your legs when you sit or lie down. Try to keep your legs higher than your heart.
5. Take pain medication. Anti-inflammatory painkillers like Ibuprofen can help to reduce any temporary discomfort and bring down the swelling. See your doctor if pain persists for more than a few days.
6. Consider surgery. Most hamstring injuries heal naturally with adequate time and rest, but complete tears may require surgery and physical therapy. Your doctor will usually conduct a physical exam and imaging tests to decide if you need surgery. Following the treatment plan conscientiously will help you to avoid permanent damage.
Proper conditioning will help to keep your hamstrings healthy and strong. If you do experience a strain or tear, rest your legs and follow your doctor’s recommendations so you can resume your normal activities as soon as possible.