Located along the back of the thigh, hamstring muscles provide direct and indirect support to bones and joints with your legs, hips, and lower back. When these muscles are overused or overextended you may experience a hamstring strain. Most hamstring strains are minor and respond well to the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). Here’s what else you need to know about these often-used set of muscles.
Where Hamstring Strains Occur
A strain may affect any of the three hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris). Strains can be in the form of a full tear, a partial tear, or a pull. The majority of hamstring strains occur in the middle part of the muscle where tissues are thicker.
Types of Hamstring Strains
Hamstring strains are based on a grades determined by severity, with a grade 1 strain considered mild and a grade 3 strain being a complete tear. A hamstring tear is an avulsion injury if some of the bone breaks away when it occurs.
Symptoms may include:
• Bruising and tenderness
• Pain in the affected thigh while walking or bending
• Sudden or sharp pain
• A “snapping” or “popping” feeling
Common Causes of Hamstring Strains
Hamstring strains are often associated with sports-related injuries. Strains typically occur due to repetitious movements or when a muscle is pulled beyond its normal range-of-motion. A strain can also result from an eccentric contraction, or what is essentially a muscle overload due to excessive pulling as hamstring muscles contract.
Muscle tightness from a lack of conditioning or muscle strength is a leading risk factor that often contributes to a hamstring strain. If one group of supporting muscles is weaker than others, a muscle imbalance may develop and increase the risk of experiencing a strain.
Preventing Hamstring Strains
Since muscle fatigues and poor conditions may increase the odds of sustaining a hamstring strain, prevention often includes regular conditioning of hamstring muscles and supporting ligaments and tendons. It’s also important to know when to take a timeout and be mindful of form when participating in sports.
If you’re not experiencing noticeable relief after a few days, the role of an orthopedist is to determine the source of your pain and identify possible contributing factors. Surgery may be performed if the tendon has been entirely pulled away from the bone, otherwise a non-surgical treatment plan is usually recommended to ease your pain and restore full use of the affected hamstring muscle.