Pulled Hamstrings: Treatment, Recovery and Causes

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A pulled hamstring describes a hamstring muscle injury where a person strains or tears one or more of the muscles at the back of the thigh. The injury can vary in severity and is common in athletes who sprint regularly. A pulled hamstring will generally respond well to simple, non-surgical treatments such as rest and physical therapy.

A pulled muscle, also known as a strain or tear, is a common injury, especially among people who play sports regularly. The hamstrings are a muscle group at the back of the thigh that is prone to strain. These injuries usually occur when the muscle stretches beyond its limit or as a result of a powerful muscle contraction.

Recovery usually involves rest and physical therapy. After a muscle injury, the muscle is vulnerable to re-injury. As such, it is important to allow the muscle to fully heal after injury and to follow preventative guidelines.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and treatments and provide prevention tips for a pulled hamstring.

The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of the thigh. These muscles allow the hip and knee joints to bend and allow movement. A pulled hamstring describes when one or more of the hamstring muscles are stretched or contracted beyond their limit, tearing the muscle fibers.

Also known as posterior muscle compartment of the thigh, the hamstrings are made up of three muscles on the back of the thigh, which are:

The muscles that make up the hamstrings start at the ischial tuberosity, which is at the bottom of the pelvis. The hamstring crosses the knee and stops at the bottom of the leg. The hamstring muscles help stabilize the knees and pelvis and play an important role in daily life. This muscle group primarily works to extend the hip and flex the knee. These muscles participate in the complex actions of standing, walking and running.

The hamstring muscles work antagonist with the quadriceps muscles, which are present at the front of the thigh. When one muscle group contracts, the other relaxes, allowing flexion and extension of the knee. When the hamstrings contract, the knee joint flexes (bends) and when the quadriceps contracts, it extends (straightens) the leg.

A pulled hamstring may occur when the muscle becomes overloaded beyond its limits. This can happen if the hamstrings experience a sudden load that stretches the muscle excessively.

Usually, a pulled hamstring occurs due to a sports injury, such as sprinting or doing an activity that stretches the hamstring. For example, during running, the hamstrings lengthen and maintain some force needed for forward movement. If this force exceeds the capacity of the muscle, it can lead to a strained hamstring.

According to research in Current Sports Medicine Reports, hamstrings are the most common type of muscle strain. A hamstring injury also has a high rate of recurrence.

Anyone can develop a pulled hamstring. But certain factors increase a person’s risk, such as:

  • participating in sports that require sudden running, sprinting, or stretching
  • have a hamstring injury in the past
  • poor hamstring flexibility
  • muscle imbalance, such as having stronger quadriceps than hamstrings

Pulled hamstrings also often occur in teenagers and young adult athletes. Hamstring injuries peak between 16–25 years old of age.

Symptoms of a pulled hamstring can depend on the extent or severity of the injury. Typically a person can notice sudden, intense pain in addition to a popping or popping. A person may also notice visible swelling and bruising, and the area may be tender to the touch.

To classify the severity of the strain, there are three grades of hamstring stretches, which include:

  • Level 1 : This degree of strain involves microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Typically, a person has mild symptoms and minimal limitations in daily activities.
  • 2nd year: This degree of tension or pulling involves a partial tearing of the muscle fibers which results in moderate pain. Swelling and bruising may also occur. The injury can interfere with activities such as running.
  • 3rd year: This degree of injury involves a complete tearing of muscle fibers. Symptoms can include severe swelling and severe pain. The injury interferes with activities such as walking. Healing time can be a few months and may require surgery.

A healthcare professional diagnoses a pulled hamstring based on a review of symptoms and medical history and a physical exam. In some cases, additional tests can confirm a diagnosis. For example, imaging studies, including an X-ray or ultrasound, can help rule out more serious injuries if they are suspected.

Usually, a doctor assesses the degree or severity of a pulled hamstring based on the muscle strength of the injured leg compared to the uninjured leg. The doctor also assesses the leg’s range of motion.

Treatment for a pulled hamstring depends on the severity of the strain. According to American Academy of Orthopedic SurgeonsMost people with a pulled hamstring recover with non-surgical treatment.

Typically, treatment includes the RICE method, which involves:

  • Rest: Limit participation in activities that cause hamstring pain until it heals.
  • Ice: Apply an ice pack for 20 minutes several times a day.
  • Compression: Wear an elastic compression bandage to help prevent swelling.
  • Elevation: Place the thigh higher than the heart when seated to reduce swelling.

For more severe hamstrings, additional treatment May include:

  • Medications : Medications, such as over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, can help relieve pain. But it’s best to speak with a medical professional to determine which medication is best.
  • Immobility: To immobilize the leg, a person may need to wear a splint until the pain subsides.
  • Physical therapy: This involves using exercises, stretches, and manual therapy to help strengthen the muscle and improve its range of motion. Physiotherapy treatment can also help speed up healing.

In more serious cases, such as if the injury involves the tendon pulling away from the bone completely, a doctor may suggest surgery. Typically, this involves a surgeon pushing the tendon back into place and removing any scar tissue. Then they reattach the tendon to the bone using small devices called anchors.

The time it takes to recover from a pulled hamstring varies. The healing time depends on the degree or severity of the strain, the age of the person and their general health. An estimate for recovery times according to the degree of injury are:

  • Level 1 : Three weeks
  • 2nd year: 4 to 8 weeks
  • 3rd year: 3 months

Most people who experience a pulled hamstring return to full function after completing treatment. Generally, the sooner a person starts treatment, the sooner they can return to daily activities. People with more serious hamstring injuries usually take longer to heal.

A person can take several steps to reduce their risk of experiencing a pulled hamstring, such as:

  • warm up well before doing vigorous physical activity
  • gradually increase the intensity of the activity
  • doing resistance exercises to increase hamstring and glute strength
  • train both hamstrings and quadriceps to help prevent imbalances
  • stretching after exercise

A pulled hamstring involves overstretching or overloading one or more of the three muscles at the back of the leg that make up the hamstring. The severity of a pulled hamstring can range from mild symptoms to significant pain and activity limitation.

Anyone can experience a pulled hamstring. However, people who play sports that involve sudden bursts of running, such as soccer, football, and basketball, have an increased risk. Treatment for a pulled hamstring usually includes the RICE method and some gentle exercises and stretches to promote recovery.

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