Did you know “to be hamstrung” is a metaphor for being limited or restricted, where you are unable to use your full potential? Not surprising, considering an injury to your hamstring does exactly that – it hampers your movement and prevents you from doing a lot that you otherwise could. So, how exactly can you strain your hamstrings and what are the signs to look out for?
A group of three muscles running along the back of your thigh makes up the hamstring. These muscles – semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris – start at the bottom of your pelvis, cross your knee joint and end at your lower leg.1 No wonder leg movement is so dependent on the hamstring!
Pulled Hamstrings Common With Active Sports
Hamstring injuries have the dubious distinction of being the most common musculoskeletal injuries suffered during sports at high school, college and professional levels. This muscle group helps you bend your knee in supplication or raise it in a high kick of aggression. While you may not need them much while walking or standing, you use them a lot when you’re bending, running, climbing and jumping. If you play sports that involve a lot of sprinting, such as basketball, track events, and soccer, you are prone to hamstring injuries. Of course, you may pull a hamstring while playing almost any other active sport too. It depends completely on how conditioned your hamstring is and on factors such as muscle fatigue, sudden explosive movements, or even slow movements with overstretching.
Not a sportsperson? Don’t heave that sigh of relief yet. Among non-sports related causes, it is dancing that takes the crown for causing hamstring injuries.2 Aside from that ballet recital, even a furious kick in self-defense may cause a hamstring pull!
Sharp Pain, Swelling, And Difficulty Walking: Classic Hamstring Injury Signs
If you pulled your hamstring while running, you will feel a sharp pain at the back of your thigh, intense enough for you to come to a stop and either hop or fall. During the first few hours, you will notice some swelling on the leg. If the injury is deeper, some bruising will also show up. Depending on the extent of the injury, you may find it difficult to walk.
Hamstring injuries are divided into 3 grades, depending on the loss of motion, amount of pain, and strength (or the lack of it) that you feel in the hamstring. Your injury may be classified as mild, moderate, or severe based on how much damage your muscle fiber or tendon has suffered. This classification will also determine how you are treated and how long your muscle will take to heal.3
Grade 1 Or Mild Hamstring Strain Symptoms
If you’ve suffered a mild hamstring strain, classified as a grade one injury, then you are most likely to:
A grade 1 or mild injury may mean pain and tenderness behind the thigh. There may be some swelling but your mobility will not be affected.
- Experience sudden pain and tenderness in the back of your thigh.
- Find movement painful, but the strength of the muscle is not likely to be affected.
- Feel like the back of your thigh is tight, but you will be able to walk normally.
- Find your thigh swollen.
Despite some discomfort for a while, sufficient rest and care will have you up and running in a few days.
Grade 2 Or Partial Hamstring Strain Symptoms
If your injury gets “promoted” to grade two, here’s what you will feel:
Pain and tenderness are felt in a grade 2 or moderate injury as well. There may also be some swelling and bruising. You will feel some weakness in the leg and movement may be impaired.
- The pain and tenderness at the back of your thigh will have company. Bruises and swelling will kick in.
- Some loss of strength in your leg is also likely.
Recovery will take a little longer. So, you will be hobbling around for a while and cooling your heels while your hamstring heals.
A Severe Hamstring Tear Can Set You Back For A While
If the prognosis is a grade three injury, you
A grade 3 or severe injury means intense and sharp pain, along with immediate swelling. You will not be able to put weight on your leg and healing will take a while.
- Won’t be able to use your leg immediately upon injury and for a while later.
- Will have pain on the back of your thighs accompanied by swelling almost immediately.
- Will see bruising follow soon after.
If you also heard a popping sound when you got injured, you’ve torn a muscle. Get ready for a period of convalescence.4
Hamstring Injuries Are Treated With RICE And Physical Therapy
When you consult a medical professional for your hamstring injury, you will first be examined to determine the extent of the injury. Depending on the physical examination, x-rays or imaging tests may be advised. Milder injuries can be effectively treated with RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate), NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), and physical therapy. A severe injury may need surgery.
Keeping your hamstrings strong with regular stretching and strengthening exercises is your best bet against pulled hamstrings. And if you start a new exercise program, increase the intensity of your exercise slowly.5
|↑1||Hamstring Muscle Injuries. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑4||Heiderscheit, Bryan C., Marc A. Sherry, Amy Silder, Elizabeth S. Chumanov, and Darryl G. Thelen. “Hamstring strain injuries: recommendations for diagnosis, rehabilitation, and injury prevention.” journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 40, no. 2 (2010): 67-81.|
|↑5||Hamstring Strain Nemours.|