It’s the first basketball game of the season, she’s makes a fastbreak and sprints down to the other end of the court, but something is wrong. She stops running in an awkward fashion, grabs the back of her thigh because the of pain. She cannot continue running but even walking is painful. The athlete in pain limps and shortens her stride on the involved leg because normal strides hurt too much. Her season is most likely over.
While anyone could potentially suffer from a hamstring injury, certain groups are more vulnerable such as young athletes; basketball, soccer, or football players; dancers; or older athletes who may not be conditioned for intense sprinting. Poor conditioning and fatigue could also play contribute to a hamstring injury for young and old alike. Recovering from hamstring injuries can take months and will involve a variety of therapies based on the severity.
The thigh musculature consists of the quadriceps femoris muscle group on the front of the thigh and the hamstrings muscles on the posterior portion. The hamstrings are 3 muscles (semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris) that originate on the pelvis and extend down the leg to insert into the back of the shin bones across the knee joint. Any muscle or muscle group that crosses two joints is made for speed not power. In the case of the hamstring muscles, they help to extend the hip and flex the knee and are extremely active when someone is sprinting or changing positions at a high rate of speed. If the force is too great on the muscle tissue or the tendon (muscles attach to bone via a tendon) damage can occur and the muscle becomes limited in its ability to perform its action.
Hamstring muscle strains often occur when the muscle lengthens as it contracts which is known as an eccentric contraction. The muscle is under a great deal of tension and it can be too great for the muscle to handle.
During sprinting, the hamstring muscles contract eccentrically as the back leg is straightened and the toes are used to push off and move forward. The hamstring muscles are not only lengthened at this point in the stride, but they are also loaded — with body weight as well as the force required to move forward.
The damage can be mild, moderate or severe. In the most severe case, the tendon can tear away from the bone. Fortunately this is rare but if it happens it is devastating and extremely painful. The person’s ability to function is severely limited. Most hamstring injuries are mild or moderate and occur in the mid-section of the muscle. The closer the damage gets to the muscle tendon junction or tendon itself the harder it is to heal and the functional limitations are more severe.
There are several conditions that make the hamstring muscles more susceptible to injury. If the muscles are not flexible, deconditioned, fatigued or not balanced with the opposing musculature they are more likely to be injured. Addressing each of these conditions should be a priority of any training routine. The muscles should be able to withstand the forces that are thrust upon them when competing or exercising aggressively and a thorough exercise routine will better prepare them for all activities.
Physical Therapists are healthcare professionals that are able to treat and rehabilitate an injured hamstring muscle. The treatment will first address the symptoms and then transition to a strengthening program. The injured muscle will lose a great deal of strength immediately following the incident and will not regain that strength without the proper rehabilitation. The therapist will utilize modalities, hands on techniques and exercises to reduce the symptoms of the acute injury. When appropriate, the rehabilitation program will transition to a strengthening program and help to re-establish the normal function of the hamstring muscles.
Getting treated by a Physical Therapist is easy and does not require a visit to the doctor. Check your insurance policy because it might require you to get a referral from your primary care physician to go to the Physical Therapist.
Hamstring injuries can be devastating and limit someone’s function for a very long time. It is not uncommon to have to treat the injured muscle for several months prior to returning to normal, pre-injury activities. Physical Therapy treatment of these injured muscles can shorten the rehabilitation time and help to prevent a recurrence of the same injury.