Hamstring strains and how Specialist Sports and Exercise Physiotherapists treat them
Hamstring strains, commonly referred to in sporting circles as “doing a hammy!”) are a common injury seen by Lane Cove physiotherapists and are also commonly re-injured if not taken care of effectively. Specialist Sports and Exercise Physiotherapists are best placed to diagnose and treat hamstring strains so you can spend less time in the physio’s office, and more time doing the things you enjoy.
You don’t need to be an elite athlete to reap the rewards of seeing a specialist sports physio either, the specialist part just means they are some of the most knowledgeable in their field when it comes to injuries commonly found in sport and exercise.
Hamstring strains are prevalent in sports that use a combination of dynamic movements like sprinting, Australian Rules football (AFL), soccer, dancing, surfing, rugby league and other activities where quick eccentric contractions, when the leg is being straightened and the hamstring is working hard, occur frequently such as slowing the leg down after kicking a ball.
In AFL hamstring strains are the most common injury with a rate of 6 injuries per club per season combined with the highest rate of re-injury at over 30%. Specialist Sports and Exercise Physiotherapists understand that it is normal for two people to tear exactly the same muscle but recover at different speeds. Recovery time is dependent on the grade of the injury with a grade 1 injury possibly healing in only a few days, while a grade 3 injury could take months and, in extreme cases, even require surgery.
What are the hamstrings and what movements do they perform?
The hamstrings are a made up of a group of muscles and tendons located at the rear of your upper leg below your buttocks. They are made up of three different muscles: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus. Hamstrings are important for a number of different things: walking, running, dancing and jumping. They allow you to flex your knee and extend your hip at the beginning of each step you take. Your hamstrings also play a large role in many movements of the legs and hips which is why physiotherapists have spent so long studying them and how to reduce the occurrence and length of injuries.
How are hamstrings commonly injured?
Like most injuries, hamstring strains or injuries can be classified as being caused by either primary or secondary factors.
- Primary factors include:
- Poor timing coordination in the hamstring (the swing phase of the leg in sprinting)
- Lack of strength and stiffness in the hamstring
- Muscle imbalances
- Increased neural tension through the sciatic nerve
- Common secondary factors include:
- Overstriding or poor pelvic control when running
- Improper warm-up to prepare hamstring muscles
- Lower back problems
- Prior hamstring injuries
What does a hamstring strain feel like?
For starters, it hurts. Hamstring strain symptoms can vary greatly between injuries with mild hamstring strains commonly presenting as tightness or a mild ache in your hamstring. While a severe strain can be extremely painful, with some people describing it like being shot in the back of the leg even making it impossible to walk or even stand.
If you have any of the following symptoms get in to see your Lane Cove physio ASAP:
- Hamstring tenderness
- Pain or difficulty running, walking or standing
- Pain in the back of the thigh or lower buttock
- Bruising or swelling
- Sudden severe pain while exercising, with a popping sound or snapping feeling
How can physiotherapy treat hamstring strains?
If you have had a hamstring injury your best course of action is to consult with a sports and exercise specialist physiotherapist or a musculoskeletal physiotherapist that has expert knowledge of sporting and musculoskeletal injuries. Due to the highpossibility of reinjuring your hamstring, there is no substitute for high quality initial care and rehabilitation. Physiotherapy helps patients with a hamstring injury to speed up the healing process and ensure the best outcome. They will be able to assess and treat your strain and help you to minimise their recurrence in the future.
- Acute or initial phase of a hamstring injury
Your physio will likely recommend the trusty RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) method for the first few days. This will help to reduce swelling and minimise pain. I like the saying ‘the early bird gets the worm’ and when it comes to intervention for hamstring injuries the early bird getting treatment always recovers quicker and more effectively. An expert sports physio will also get you loading your hamstrings in a variety of different ways, even in the early stages!
- Your physio will then comprehensively assess:
- Your range of motion
- The strength and mobility of your lower back
- Your gait
- Your flexibility
- If possible, your running, jumping and sporting techniques
How to prevent another Hamstring Strain
If you’ve ever had a hamstring strain I can pretty much guarantee you won’t want another one, they certainly don’t tickle. Dealing with a hamstring injury once it’s already happened is much harder than preventing it. Here are some tips:
- Stretch and warm up before and after physical activity
- Increase the intensity of your physical activity gradually
- If you feel pain, stop exercising (it’s not all ‘no pain, no gain’)
- Stretch and strengthen hamstrings as a preventative measure
Whether you have recently suffered a hamstring injury and are in need of immediate physical therapy or you have suffered a hamstring injury in the past, a physiotherapist is able to assess and recommend the best activities and stretches to help speed along your recovery and reduce the likelihood of experiencing further strains.
 Sutton G. Hamstrung by hamstring strains: a review of the literature*.J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1984; 5(4):184-95.
 Orchard J, Seward H. Epidemiology of injuries in the Australian Football League, season 1997–2000. Br J Sports Med2002;36:39–44.
 Schunke M., Schulte E., Schumacher. Anatomische atlas Prometheus: Algemene anatomie en bewegingsapparaat. Nederland: Bohn Stafleu Van Loghum, 2005.