If you are watching sports and you see someone sprinting and suddenly grab the back of their leg – typically they have pulled a hamstring muscle. “Pulling your hammy” is a fairly common injury, especially in athletics. A hamstring injury can be very difficult to come back from due to the large part the hamstring plays in controlling and slowing the body down from fast speeds. Of those who strain their hamstring, approximately one third will reinjure that same hamstring in a short period of time.
There are a few risk factors for hamstring injuries; the first being a poor strength ratio between the hamstrings and the quads. Many people like to focus on strengthening the “mirror muscles” (the muscles on the front of the body—for example, the quadriceps, biceps, pectorals and abdominals—that you can see in a mirror) and because of this a person will often have stronger quadriceps than hamstring muscles, which can predispose you to injury. Making sure you strengthen both the front and back of your thighs will cut down on your injury risk.
A lack of hamstring flexibility can also increase your risk of injury. It has also been shown that most hamstring strains occur towards the end of a work out or sporting even due to fatigue. Refraining from that last ski run, asking to be substituted for in an athletic contest, etc. may keep you in the game in the long run.
If injured, the most effective type of rehabilitation for these injuries is focusing on what we call “eccentric strengthening” – or strengthening the muscle as it is getting longer. This has been shown to help reduce the risk of reinjury and return the active population back to their hobby faster and safer. If performing a resisted hamstring curl, focus on the down (or lowering) phase, sometimes also called “negatives.” If you find that you have a hamstring strain, no matter how minor, it is important to get it rehabilitated properly, or it may become a recurring issue for you.
By Jenn Millen, PTA, ATC