Yasmin Dhar, M.D.
Orthopedic Surgeon and Sports Medicine Specialist
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Hamstring Muscle Sprain
What is a hamstring muscle strain?
The hamstring muscle group is the most frequently pulled group of muscles in the body. The hamstring muscle group is three muscles (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus) located on the back of the hip and thigh that cross both the hip and knee joints.
A hamstring strain is an acute injury, which you can remember a specific point or time of injury. Usually, you know right when the injury occurred, most commonly from a sprinting or jumping maneuver, and you felt a sharp pain or stab in the back of your thigh.
How do you get a hamstring muscle strain?
A hamstring muscle strain is usually seen in athletes competing in sports that require quick explosive movements, like track and field, soccer, baseball, basketball, and football. Any athlete in a sport that requires explosive movements and quick changes in direction can be at risk for a hamstring strain. Inflexibility or tightness of the hamstring muscles may make you more susceptible to a strain.
What are the symptoms of a hamstring muscle strain?
Usually, you will feel a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh. You may have difficulty walking or walk with a limp. There will be pain to palpation and upon stretching the muscles, like straightening your knee or leg, or weakness with resisted muscle activity. You may also notice swelling or bruising in the back of the thigh and down your leg, which can be very diffuse depending on the grade of strain. If it is a complete rupture, you may even feel a gap in the muscle. The range and severity of symptoms depend on the grade of injury, grade 1 being mild to grade 3, which is more severe.
What causes a hamstring muscle strain?
Tightness of the hamstring muscles is one of the most common causes of a hamstring strain. If the hamstring muscles are tight, the muscle fibers can tear as you perform explosive activities with the lower leg.
Muscle strength imbalance between the quadriceps and hamstring muscle groups is another cause of a hamstring strains. Athletes tend to focus on the development of the strength and power of their quadriceps muscle group, but may not give the hamstring muscle group the same amount of attention in the weight room. If the muscle groups are imbalanced, injury may occur from the quadriceps overpowering the hamstring muscles.
How do you treat a hamstring muscle strain?
Initial treatment for a hamstring strain depends on the severity of the injury. Generally, you will need R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation) for the first 24-48 hours. You may need crutches to help you walk if you have a significant limp. You will likely need physical therapy to decrease the inflammation and slowly improve your range of motion and flexibility, progressing to strengthening and more explosive maneuvers as your symptoms improve.
How do I prevent a hamstring muscle strain?
Since hamstring strains are usually caused by tightness and muscle imbalance, the focus of prevention programs is on improving flexibility and strength. Flexibility can be improved with consistent daily stretching specific to the hamstring muscle group.
When can I return to sports?
Once you have full range of motion of the hip and knee, with full, equal strength compared to the uninjured leg, and can perform fundamental jumping and running activities needed for your sport or activity, you are ready to return to all of your activities.
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