By Jeff Albertson
Spring is in the air! The transition from skiing and skating to running and jumping opens us up to certain injuries. Hamstring strains are one such injury.
Who Gets It?
Hamstring strains are relatively common in sports – especially those requiring explosive acceleration and jumping. Sports such as football, soccer, and track and field are particularly perilous. Additionally, activities such as dancing, which require hyper-stretching movements, also place the participants at risk.
What Is It?
The words strain or pull are arbitrary; both terms are referring to a tear of the muscle, usually a partial tear. The tear happens suddenly and is often unmistakable – athletes frequently report feeling as though they’ve been stabbed!
How to Prevent It?
Crucial to prevention is an understanding of the risk factors for a particular injury:
Age – Yes, that’s right, your body’s not as resilient as it was back in the day.
Weakness – Weakness of the hamstring muscles makes them more prone to injury. This vulnerability is exaggerated if you have strong quadriceps; the imbalance is a problem.
Weak core muscles – We could do an entire book on what the term core strength means, but, for our purposes here, understand that the muscles around your trunk and hips help to stabilize your pelvic girdle (where your HS muscles attach). Weakness increases your risk of hamstring strains.
Flexibility –Flexibility of the hamstring muscle itself is not very important. Overly tight quadriceps and hip flexors however, place you at risk of a hamstring strain (more so than tight hamstring muscles).
Deconditioning – There’s a reason why ~ 50% of hamstring strains occur in the preseason. Get your body into shape before starting any aggressive sports activity.
Don’t ramp up exercise activity suddenly; allow your body to adapt to the demands of the season.
For our high-demand athletes and/or high-risk recreational athletes: find a comprehensive preseason training plan that incorporates sport-specific conditioning activities as well as an appropriate balance of strengthening and mobility drills. Also, for those competing at high intensities, heavy eccentric training to the hamstring muscle is a must. Seek the advice of a sports physical therapist or strength and conditioning coach.
What to do about it once it’s happened?
First: do not try to stretch away the pain. You will only make the tear worse and recover more slowly.
If you’re limping, grab some crutches. Wrap an Ace bandage around the thigh and ice the injury for 15 minutes every hour, for the first 48 hours at least.
Second: do not rest it completely. Yes, with a bad muscle tear, a day or two of total rest may be a good idea. But, that’s it! These injuries heal more completely when low intensity exercises are introduced very early in the recovery.
For much more information on this injury, including early self-treatment strategies, check out our blog at www.VASTAsports.com.
As always, I invite readers to email me directly with any thoughts on this subject, injury-related questions, or ideas and requests for future articles. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Albertson is a sports physical therapist and the Director of Physical Therapy at VASTA Performance Training and Physical Therapy. See VastaSports.com for information on services or for more tips on remaining injury free.
Jeff and his family live in Charlotte.