What are they?
The hamstrings consist of 3 muscles, located at the back of the thigh. They act to create flexion of the knee, abduction at the hip and stabilise the leg. An injury can occur anywhere along the muscles, however it is most common where the tendon and muscle fibers join. Hamstring tears are common in sports that require high volumes of agility such as running following by change of direction and kicking.
What are the causes?
The hamstring cross two large joints; the hip (where the acetabulum and femoral head articulate) and knee (tibiofemoral articulation), as a result they are needed to perform complicated movements and often activate suddenly and with a high degree of force. Often, they are stretched during a fall, large kick or sudden take-off. The chance of a tear is increased in individuals with poor flexibility and neural mobility; there are multiple other factors, such as muscle imbalances, abnormal lower limb biomechanics, fatigue and inadequate warm-up. Despite these factors, evidence shows that the biggest predictor of a future hamstring tear is a previous hamstring injury.
What are the symptoms?
Sharp pain immediately after intense activity is the most common symptom of a tear. Swelling, bruising, difficulty walking and pain with knee movement may also present following the incident. Symptoms of a hamstring injury can often originate from a lower back issue, as the lower back often refers pain to the back of the thigh which mimics a hamstring tear.
A Physiotherapist can diagnose your pain and symptoms as a hamstring tear, including the degree of the tear and can use an MRI or ultrasound to confirm their diagnosis.
How can physiotherapy help?
Following the diagnosis, the R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) protocol is imperative. During the initial 48 hours following the incident, ice should be applied for 20 mins every hour to reduce swelling and bruising. Physio treatment will include a specific recovery strategy and a management plan to appropriately return to sport. Some techniques the practitioner may use includes deep tissue therapy, laser, TENS, ultrasound and dry needling.
Through your recovery plan they will also implement a strength profram to return strength, flexibility and control of the muscle, getting you back to your sport quickly and safely. As a result of the nature of the injury, rehabilitation is imperative to reduce re-injuring the hamstring; the process usually takes 6-12 weeks. Depending on the severity of the tear, surgery may be required which may prolong your time off exercising. Together with your physio you can set goals to get back to your favourite sport and activities as soon as possible.
None of the information in this article is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always
see a medical professional for advice on your individual injury.