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How to Avoid a Hamstring Strain or Tear and Stay Active

The 8 Best Tips You Can Do to Avoid a Hamstring Strain or Tear and Stay Active!

The Hamstring Muscle is responsible for hip extension and knee flexion. The Hamstring is actually a grouping of three muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris (long and short head).   The back of your thigh is made up of these hamstring muscles and the front of your thigh is made up of the quadriceps muscle. The quadriceps is responsible for hip flexion and knee extension.  Both muscle groups assist with the movement of the lower extremity and these muscle groups also stabilize the knee joint, especially during running and jumping.


Signs and Symptoms of a Hamstring Injury

  • Severe pain behind the upper leg and/or buttock
  • Tightness, a cramp, or spasms felt in the back of your leg
  • Feeling a pop or tear in the hamstring muscle
  • Discoloration in the hamstring, after feeling severe pain or a pop/tear.
  • Tenderness and swelling of the hamstring muscle.
  • Balling up or very large knot in the back of the leg—might indicate a completer tear of the muscle.


How Can You Tell How Severe of a Hamstring Injury it is?

Grade 1

  • You may find pain with walking
  • Tightness in back of leg
  • Pain if you bend knee

Grade 2

  • More pain and difficulty with walking
  • Discolor and swelling of leg more defined
  • More difficulty in bending knee and pain if stretched

Grade 3

  • More severe pain

Selling, bruising, and very tender to the touch

  • Difficulty walking—and may need crutches
  • Can't bend or straighten the knee

Note: If you have grade three hamstring strain, seek medical attention immediately.


8 Tips on How to Avoid a Hamstring Injury

  1. Warming up properly:

Consider your muscles like elastic bands…when they are colder they are more likely to tear so providing your muscles with an easy warm up activity such as a light walk or run or dynamics followed by stretching can reduce the risk factors for developing a hamstring strain.


  1. Ease into increasing exercise intensity or duration:

Never up your exercise intensity, frequency or duration more than 10%-for example if you are increasing the distance of a run, it’s best to never add more than 10% per week on to the previous distance. 


  1. Know when to ease up:

Stop exercising if you feel tightness in the back of your legs. Tightness may develop before an actual tear occurs. Take down the speed or intensity of the activity and see if the tightness eases up. 


  1. Running Technique:

For runners: Poor running mechanics such as over-striding or heel striking during a run can mean that you will be overextending the leg after each leg swing, creating more tension on the hamstring muscle.  Shortening your stride or trying to land more at your mid-foot vs heel, can assist in running without developing a hamstring tightness or strain.


  1. Avoid Fatigue from Overtraining:

If you have not followed the 10% rule for increasing mileage, intensity or duration of exercise, you may find that your legs will not be responding properly when contracting, due to either over tightness from straining during a prior exercise, or fatigue from a previous more rigorous exercise.  You may find yourself compensating due to this tightness and fatigue, putting your hamstrings in jeopardy of a strain/tear and potentially risking injury to other regions of your body.   Also keep in mind that during any training involving heavy lifting, that hamstrings are primarily fast twitch Type II muscle fibers and they can fatigue quickly. A recommendation found is to complete high speed work early in a workout, as close to warm-up as possible to avoid fatigue.


  1. Playing surfaces:

If you slip into a “split” position you will be lucky if you don’t tear a hamstring. Avoid activity on wet slippery surfaces that could jeopardize your hamstring length tolerance.


  1. Running in cold weather:

Let’s go back to the section on having tight muscles from prior workouts and the issue of not having a proper warm-up –Now add cold weather to the equation and you will have a perfect storm for a tight muscle and a strain.


  1. Explosive Actions:

Sprinting, jumping, leaping, sliding, and explosive running are a part of many sports including dance, baseball, track, basketball and soccer to name a few. Dancers and players all rely on explosive actions at times to perform at the highest level.  A quick over extension of the leg with the knee straight can spell disaster for any athlete.  If you fall into the categories of playing in one or more of these sports, pay very close attention to your warm up and daily stretching to keep your muscles as pliable and of adequate length for sport participation. 


Additional Risk Factor: Age!

Our circulation and our flexibility can certainly decline with age. If you are a weekend warrior with a couch potato day job, and not in your 20s or 30s, then don’t expect sliding into home base to go well without early preparation for your sport such as daily stretching and a proper warm up. 


What if it’s too late? What are your best options for an Initial Treatment?

If you think you may have a bad strain…and you feel pain in the back of your leg…maybe felt a small tearing feeling upon injury, and you feel a harder spasm/knot in the hamstring muscle, then the following may help--

  • If you can’t put weight on the affected leg without limping then use a cane or crutches, if necessary. Don’t limp. It’s not good for the rest of your body.
  • Apply ice packs for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times a day, for at least the first 72 hours.
  • Elevate your leg (using a pillow) when sitting or lying down.
  • Use an elastic wrap around your upper leg for compression (to control swelling).
  • If the pain is significant or if the symptoms don’t subside within two weeks, see a doctor.

As you begin to recover from the initial 72 hours after the injury you can apply light self- myofascial and self-massage techniques with foam rolling the back of the thigh at the hamstring.  Do not apply too much pressure to the injured spot.  You can also apply gentle massaging to the hamstring area as well as the side and front of thigh at the quadriceps muscle.  All areas of the leg may be tight in response to the injury and the increased circulation from the massaging to other regions of the thigh can benefit the hamstring as well.   


If you are interested in learning more about How to Avoid a Hamstring Strain/Tear and Stay Active, then reach out to BodyFit Physical Therapy by emailing cindy@bodyfitphysicaltherapy.com or calling Cindy at 860-507-7365 to schedule a FREE Discovery Visit-A Consultation with a Physical Therapist.