Your hamstring is the group of muscles in the back of your thigh that flex your knee, i.e., moving your heel toward your buttock. The term “strain” means that a muscle or its tendon has been stressed beyond its limit and has frayed, much like a rope that has been pulled too hard. Your hamstring may be “pulled” or “strained” when it is forced to contract beyond its capacity, like during running or from excessive stretch. This tearing leads to bleeding, bruising, swelling, pain and loss of function.
The symptoms of a hamstring strain may vary from mild discomfort to severe pain, depending upon the amount of tissue that has been torn. Over 90% of hamstring strains occur abruptly with a tearing, burning or popping feeling accompanied by immediate pain below your buttock. Your symptoms will likely increase when straightening your leg, walking or flexing forward. You may notice some bruising that starts near the site of injury. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have notable pain in your lower back, if your pain extends into your calf, if your pain worsens with coughing or sneezing, or if you have a rash on the back of your thigh.
Hamstring injuries are more common when your muscles are tired from activity and happen more frequently as we age. Having excessive tightness or weakness in your hamstring, having quadriceps that are significantly stronger than your hamstring, having too little core strength or poor running form also predispose you to injury.
Nearly all hamstring strains can be successfully managed with conservative care, like the type provided in our office. Your healing period will vary based on several factors, including the specific region of your hamstring that has been injured. Tears that involve the part of the muscle closest to your ischial tuberosity (the bones you sit on) take longer to heal than those that occur further down the muscle.
Initially, you should use ice or ice massage over the injured area for 15 minutes at a time, up to once per hour. Our office may advise you to use an ACE wrap or compression bandage to help limit swelling. The use of NSAIDs for hamstring strains is controversial, as some research suggests this may delay healing. Patients who have more severe injuries may need to use crutches. While you are recovering, you may need to limit some activities, like running and jumping and instead, cross train by stationary cycling or swimming. You are more likely to strain your hamstring in the future and recurrent injuries may take twice as long to heal as the initial injury, so be sure to allow yourself adequate healing time, consistently perform your exercises and warm-up properly prior to activity.