Hamstring Injuries: Causes and Treatment

Hamstring injuries are common among dancers and some athletes. This is especially the case when they don't complement their activity with a physical conditioning program.
Hamstring Injuries: Causes and Treatment
Leidy Mora Molina

Reviewed and approved by the nurse Leidy Mora Molina.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 19 October, 2022

Hamstring injuries are a very common occurrence. Although they’re rarely serious, they do cause uncomfortable symptoms and limit movement for some time. However, only in rare cases do they require surgery.

The injury is usually caused by over-stretching or over-tightening. The hamstrings are a group of 3 muscles that run along the back of the thigh. They run from the hip to just below the knee.

People who play sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis, and any others that require high-speed running and sudden stopping are more prone to hamstring injuries, as are dancers.

What are hamstring injuries?

Hamstring injuries come in varying degrees of severity, and they cause severe pain in the back of the thigh. They can affect anyone, but they’re more common in those who practice sports that involve speed or fast movements.

As we mentioned, there are three hamstring muscles: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. They’re located in the posterior thigh area and help to extend the hip and flex the knee.

These muscles aren’t used much when standing or walking. Instead, they become very active when someone is doing an exercise that requires flexing the knee, such as climbing, jumping, or running.

This injury is classified into different grades:

Hamstring injuries.
In soccer, injured hamstrings are common. Initially, the problem may be confused with knee disorders.

Causes

Injuries to the hamstring muscles almost always occur when a sudden intense movement is made, which requires significant stretching. However, it can also occur gradually with slower movements. Risk factors include the following:

  • Activities that require significant stretching. These include dancing and sports involving running or jumping.
  • Low flexibility. A person with poor flexibility has more difficulty performing sudden, intense movements.
  • Muscle imbalance. Although this is open to debate, the general opinion is that people with more developed front thigh muscles are at greater risk of injury.
  • Weak glutes. The buttocks work in conjunction with the hamstrings. If the former are very weak, they create an overload and cause stress to the latter.
  • Poor warm-up. If there’s no warm-up or a very poor warm-up, the risk of injury increases.

Symptoms and diagnosis

The main symptom of hamstring injury is pain in the back of the leg. This is usually sudden and often accompanied by a snapping or popping sensation.

It’s also common to experience pain in the lower buttocks when walking, bending over or straightening the leg. There’s usually tenderness in the area and bruising.

However, symptoms vary depending on the severity:

  • Grade 1: Sudden pain is felt, which usually reappears when moving the leg. However, muscle strength isn’t affected.
  • Grade 2: The pain is more intense and is almost always accompanied by swelling in the area and bruising. Some strength is lost.
  • Grade 3: There’s quite severe pain, with tenderness in the area, swelling, and bruising. There’s a distinct popping sensation at the time of injury. There’s also difficulty standing and walking.

The diagnosis of a hamstring injury is made by talking with the specialist and a physical examination. Sometimes, imaging tests, such as X-rays, ultrasound or MRI, are ordered to determine the extent of the damage.

Hamstring injury treatment

If the hamstring injury is mild to moderate, it will usually remit on its own. However, to speed healing and avoid complications, your doctor will most likely recommend some measures:

  • Avoid strenuous activities
  • Use a stick or crutches
  • Apply ice packs to the area
  • Use a compression bandage
  • Elevate the leg
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications

Once the initial pain and swelling subside, scheduling an appointment with a physical therapist for specific exercises may be recommended. These will help increase flexibility and strength.

If the hamstring injury is severe, surgery will be required to correct the problem. In general, this procedure is performed when the muscle is released from the area that attaches it to the pelvis or tibia.

Some rehabilitation.
Physical therapy work is essential in these injuries. This will shorten recovery times.

Can it be prevented?

To prevent a hamstring injury, regular strengthening and stretching exercises are best. Physical conditioning programs, especially when playing sports, are recommended.

It’s also very important to warm up before doing physical activity and stretch afterwards. Exercise intensity should be increased gradually. If pain is felt in the back of the thigh, you should stop the activity.

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