Your hamstrings are a collection of three muscles located in the back of your thigh to your knee - the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. They work together to help you bend your knee and extend your hip.
A pulled hamstring results from overloading and straining one or more of the hamstring muscles. The muscle fibers of the hamstring can become strained or even torn while running, kicking, or even just by walking a little too quickly downstairs. There are a variety of potential causes that can be putting you at risk for a hamstring injury like:
- Inadequate stretching/ warm-up routine before exercising.
- Muscle imbalances within the hamstring muscles.
- Muscle imbalances between the quads and the hamstrings.
- A recent injury that hasn't completely healed from previous damage.
What are Symptoms of a Pulled or Strained Hamstring?
Symptoms can present themselves differently depending on the severity of the strain. Lower-grade strains that stretch the muscle fibers without tearing them can have minimal swelling and a gradual onset of pain. The muscle can tear with more severe strains, causing a "pop" or "twinge" sensation with immediate pain - ouch! Some other symptoms or signs of a strained hamstring are:
- Immediate pain or discomfort down the back of the leg while exercising or stretching.
- Possible bruising or swelling.
- Difficulty or weakness attempting to bend or straighten the knee.
How Do You Treat a Strained Hamstring?
Initially, it helps to use the RICE method to treat a hamstring strain or a pulled hamstring.
The R in RICE stands for REST. Because the hamstring muscles are stretched when the knee bends and extends, it may be necessary to rest and avoid weight-bearing activities like walking for a while. Many people tend to use crutches to help them temporarily.
The I stands for ICE. Icing should be done frequently for 15-20 minutes at a time. Keeping your skin protected while icing the injured area to prevent frostbite is important.
The C stands for COMPRESSION. An Ace wrap is typically used for compression. These wraps should be applied starting at the keep and circling the thigh until the wrap ends at the hip - the compression should feel firm but not be tight enough to cause pain or cut off blood circulation.
The E stands for ELEVATION. Elevation helps decrease swelling by causing fluid to drain back to the center of the body. When elevating, the leg should be resting above heart level.
The RICE method is a great way to initially treat hamstring strains by decreasing inflammation and returning normal blood supply to the area. But for the muscle to return to full function, you need a recovery exercise plan that will rehabilitate the muscle based on its current range of motion and strength. Renew's physiotherapy team will use a variety of screening questions and assessments to analyze your injury and design a rehabilitation plan to help you lessen recovery time and return to your normal day-to-day activities and athletics.
How Long Does it Take for a Pulled Hamstring to Heal?
Each injury and each patient progresses at different speeds. How quickly your injury will heal is dependent severity of the injury and your response to treating it. Mild strains can take a few days to heal, while more severe strains or muscle tears can take weeks to months to fully recover. It is better to prioritize muscle recovery as soon as possible to avoid a longer, more painful recovery!
How Can I Prevent a Hamstring Strain?
There is no surefire way to prevent injuries, but hamstring strains often occur because the muscles are tight and have poor flexibility. Starting a stretching routine can be a great way to increase flexibility in the hamstrings and avoid future injuries. Try a local yoga class, a pilates class, or book a recovery session with a personal trainer and learn a handful of stretches that will best serve you!
Eccentric exercises, or exercises that focus on the lengthening of the muscle, can also help decrease your risk of pulling your hamstring. These exercises will help strengthen your muscles as they are stretched. Renew Physiotherapist Adam at Independence Blvd recommends these eccentric exercises for hamstring strengthening and later stage rehabilitation:
Eccentric Kneeling Slides
With a slider and an optional pad underneath your knee, place your heel on the slider. Begin by kneeling at a 90-degree angle with a neutral spine. Keeping a slight bend in the knee, slowly slide forwards using your body weight to press down into your heel. You can also optionally use a box beside you to help stabilize yourself.
Overspeed Eccentric Kicks with Band Tension
Secure a light resistance band around a grounded object and at the base of your heel. Sit upright, keep your core tight and engaged, and then rapidly kick out and back from the knee.
For more tips and information on how you can prevent strains and strengthen your hamstrings, schedule a free screening with a Renew physiotherapist today!