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Hamstring Strain: How to Treat a Pulled Hamstring

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You are jogging and jogging…gaining momentum…speeding up to a brisk run and ouch! An excruciating pain in the back of your thigh that causes tenderness and may restrict immediate mobility in severe cases. What just happened? Well most likely, a hamstring strain may have just happened to you. And now you are rolling in agonizing pain with nobody in sight to rush to your aid. What do you do? How to treat a pulled hamstring? That’s exactly what we shall tell you here.

Read on to know:

  • What is Hamstring Muscle
  • What is Hamstring Strain
  • How Muscles Work
  • Symptoms of Hamstring Strain
  • How to Treat a Pulled Hamstring
  • How to Heal - Exercise for Full Recovery
  • Prevention of Hamstring Strain

What is Hamstring Muscle

Hamstring muscle
Hamstring Muscles at the Back of the Thigh

Hamstrings are a group of three muscles settled on the back of the thigh. These muscles originate on the hip and pelvis and end in strong thick tendons at the back of the knee. This means that the hamstring muscles help in the function of the hip and the knee, allowing it to bend smoothly.

Taking good care of the hamstring muscles are very important to runners, athletes, players, and dancers. Good strength and flexibility in these set of muscles can boost performance and lower soreness and injury risks like pulled hamstrings.

What is Hamstring Strain

Hamstring Injury
Hamstring Injury While Running

A strain or tear in the hamstring muscles is known as hamstring strain or a pulled hamstring. During a hamstring strain, one of the three muscle fibres gets excessively stretched leading to tearing or damage.

Since the hamstring muscles are related to hip and knee movements, a hamstring strain can interfere in common activities such as knee flexing, walking, rotating the lower leg, running, jumping, etc. From walking up the stairs to riding a bike to maintaining balance, the hamstrings are a valuable set of muscles which cannot afford to impair.

Hamstring strain is common and can happen anywhere and at any time. Hence, you should learn how to treat a pulled hamstring for a quick relief. Let’s find out more.

How Muscles Work

Before we land upon how to treat a pulled hamstring, we believe you should understand how our muscles work.

Muscles in our body work in pairs to perform tasks. One set of muscles contracts to exert force and the other set relaxes. The hamstring muscles, running along the back of the thigh, work with the quadriceps muscles located in the front of the thigh. So, when you bend your leg, the hamstring muscles contract to relax the quadriceps muscles. Again, when you straighten your leg, the quadriceps muscles contract and the hamstring muscles relax.

When one group of muscles are stronger than the opposing muscle group, an imbalance occurs that leads to a muscle strain. This kind of muscle strain or pull often happens with the hamstring muscles and so, learning how to treat a pulled hamstring can come handy in time.

You see, any individual irrespective of age or profession is susceptible to a hamstring pull. Keep reading to know the hamstring strain symptoms.

Symptoms of Hamstring Strain

symptoms of hamstring
Identify the Symptoms of Hamstring Strain

Between the quadriceps and the hamstring muscles, the former i.e. quadriceps are usually stronger than the hamstrings. This reveals that the hamstrings are more likely to become fatigued than the quadriceps and a fatigued muscle cannot relax easily when the opposing muscle contracts, thus leading to strains.

Here are the symptoms of a hamstring strain-

  • Abrupt and sharp pain in the back of the thigh or buttocks
  • Sometimes the pain is accompanied by an audible pop sound
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Palpable pain while flexing the muscle
  • Difficulty in moving or bearing body weight

In an acute hamstring strain case, individuals experience pain and discomfort in sitting and deformity like muscle lumpiness under the skin.

There are three grades of the hamstring injury. These are-

Grade 1

A mild damage to a few muscle fibre. You are likely to recover within a few days.

Grade 2

A partial damage to a considerable number of muscle fibres.

Grade 3

A complete muscle rupture. This kind of hamstring damage may take weeks to months for total recovery.

How to Treat a Pulled Hamstring

Strengthening Exercises for Hamstring Muscles

In case you are lucky and suffer grade 1-2 hamstring strain then follow the RICE instructions to treat a pulled hamstring-

  • Rest

When you suffer a pulled hamstring, rest is essential. Avoid physical activity, spend more time lying down and limit movements in the injured leg. Use crutches or any support while moving.

  • Ice

Rub ice on the injured hamstring muscles for about 20 minutes. Do it for two to three times a day. Be sure not to apply it directly to the skin. For example, you can use a bag of ice cubes or frozen peas wrapped in a cloth.

  • Compression

Wrap a compression bandage on firmly it. It will help to reduce swelling pain.

  • Elevation

Keeping your leg slightly raised can reduce the swelling. You can support the leg up on pillows while lying down. Elevation keeps your leg immobilized which hasten the healing process.

How to Heal - Exercise for Full Recovery

After the pain and swelling recede, try moving the leg gradually. It is critical to keep the healing muscle in good shape. You can do some light stretching and strengthening exercise to ensure a full recovery.

Stretching Exercise

Lie down beside a wall, and slowly move the injured leg up the wall, making your body form an “L”. This is a great stretching workout and can be done at varying intensities during the healing process. 

Strengthening Exercise

There simple hamstring strengthening workouts will help you to regain full muscle strength upon healing. Sit up on a chair with wheels. Take the injured leg forward and straighten it out in front of you, the heel should stay on the ground. Now, slowly bend the knee of the injured leg and pull the chair forward with its support. Repeat the movement as many times. Next, try to move the chair from one end of the room to the other.

In severe cases like Along with these exercises, you should take proper nutrition as the healing happens from inside the body. A nutrient rich diet speeds up the healing of muscles and fibres. Include lots of protein as amino acids are the essential building blocks of the muscles and help in regrowth and repair of cells. In addition, add Vitamins A and C as they support healing of muscles; vitamin A is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects while vitamin C plays a key role in collagen production.

And if your mother swears by the miraculous effects of yoga- listen to her! An injury is followed by both physical and psychological impacts. Depending on the severity, a hamstring strain can be assisted to healing by yoga too. Doing mild yoga will lower stress and anxiety, improve your immune system, and boost metabolism, and thus help the healing from within the body.

Prevention of Hamstring Strain

preventing hamstring
How to Prevent Hamstring Strain

Although you have learned how to treat a pulled hamstring, nipping the casualty in the bud is always good. So, how about understanding the factors that can increase a hamstring strain risk before.

1. A Previous Injury
Any prior injuries to the hamstring muscles can greatly increase the risk of the hamstrings to future damage.

2. Flexibility
One of the common reasons for a hamstring injury is due to less inflexibility in the area.

3. Hamstring strength
A fatigued or weak hamstring muscle increase the chance of hamstring snap.

4. Age
The risk of a pulled hamstring is greater in older individuals.

5. Lumbosacral nerve impingement
Nerve impingement in L5-S1 can cause weakness in the associated hamstring muscle.

Tiredness and Fitness

Fatigued reduces coordination between muscle groups. The biceps femoris muscle becomes damaged when its two portions are innervated by two separate nerves. In a state of tiredness, there’s a lack of synchronization between these two nerves and that leads to a mismatch in firing, resulting in a pulled hamstring.

If you are encountering a hamstring strain frequently then it could be because:

  • You don't warm up before the physical activity.
  • You have tighter quadricep muscles that pull your pelvis forward and causes the hamstrings to tighten.
  • Hamstrings and Glutes work together. If you have weak glutes, then hamstring muscles can be over loaded leading to strains.

But you can prevent all of that by being mindful of muscle strength and flexibility.

  • Try to do muscle stretching exercises regularly. Do not forget the warm-up session before running.
  • Eat a balanced diet to avoid electrolyte imbalance and retain muscle health.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration as it can result in muscle cramping.
  • Watch your body weight. Excessive upper body weight is a load on the lower legs, thereby increasing the risk of muscle injuries in the lower leg part.
  • As said, quadriceps are relatively stronger. Hence, improve the strength imbalance between hamstrings and quadriceps. With appropriate exercises, you can either increase hamstring strength or reduce quadriceps strength.
  • You can improve imbalance between hamstrings and quadriceps by doing repeated single leg broad jumps combined with resistance training that targets the hamstring muscles.

Hamstring strain can happen to all especially athletes like runners, professional or otherwise. It is a common injury but when it strikes, it can make you cry like a baby and since self-help is the best help, learning how to treat a pulled hamstring can be handy to you as well as to others. Therefore, follow our simple treatment instructions and prevention rules to shun hamstring injury nightmares.

Warm-up, stretch and off you run!

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