The hamstring group of muscle run down the back of the upper leg, from the “sit bones’ to the back and sides of the knee.Made up of three major muscles (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus) they are heavily relied upon for running - bending the knee and pulling the leg back behind the body.
When these muscles are stretched beyond their normal limit, they can tear - this is known as a hamstring strain.
Note - a “strain” denotes a tear to a muscle, while a “sprain” means a ligament or tendon is injured or torn.
What Does It Feel Like?
It’s hard to miss when a hamstring strain occurs - there’s almost always a sharp or burning pain in the back of your leg - usually toward the upper part but a strain can appear anywhere along the back of the upper leg.In some instances a “pop” with intense pain may be felt - this is going to be a more severe strain!
Regardless of the degree of strain, it’ll be difficult to continue running, or even walking. There will be tenderness with touch and movement of the leg with possible bruising and swelling depending on the severity of the strain.
Grade 1-3 Strains
Similar to sprains, strains are graded from 1-3 with grade 1 being minor and grade 3 being a complete tear.
Grade 1 Hamstring Strain
Minor pain and discomfort
Will be stiff in the morning and with starting motion
Muscle weakness - it will be hard to move the leg backward, fully
Can take a few weeks to completely heal
Grade 2 Hamstring Strain
This is a partial tear of the muscle
Difficult to walk, or even bear weight on the leg
Moderate pain, swelling and bruising
Will take 3-6 weeks to heal
Grade 3 Hamstring Strain
Complete tear of the hamstring muscle(s)
Inability to walk
An audible “pop” probably occurred at time of injury
Pain is severe with bruising and swelling
May take several months to heal
Why Did It Happen?
A hamstring strain is essentially a tear of the muscle. Normally, muscles are very flexible and easily stretched. But, if not properly warmed up, or too much force has been exerted, they will tear.
The hamstring muscles can get overloaded from activities that involve jumping or sprinting.When the foot is extended far from the body (such as during running), the leg (and hamstring muscles) are fully extended. As soon as the foot strikes the ground, a lot of force is passed through the hamstring muscles from the weight of the body.The hamstrings act as a “brake” to slow momentum and this can lead to tearing as well.
Hamstring tears occur commonly in teens because in many cases the bones grow faster than the muscles, leading to a situation where shorter, tighter muscles may become easily strained against the action of longer bones.On the other hand, it’s easy for older people to get hamstring strains because their muscles and connective tissues can be less flexible due to aging, prolonged sitting/sedentary lifestyle (further tightening the muscles) and dehydration.
How To Heal A Hamstring Strain
Most hamstring strains will heal on their own with adequate rest, conservative treatments and physical therapy.Severe, grade 3 hamstring tears may require surgery in order to reattach the torn muscle to the bone.Regardless, the following therapies will help with any strain, from Grade 1 to 3.
You’ve probably heard of R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) therapy to treat injuries.Well, as research and experience evolve,RICE therapy has fallen out of favor for healing injuries. Unfortunately, many clinicians still recommend this treatment!
We highly recommend NOT following the Rice protocol.Here’s why.
Instead, here’s how your recovery should look:
Keep moving.As best you can.Of course, the worse the strain the less initial activity can be done.But as healing occurs, keeping the muscle moving (thus promoting circulation there) can speed healing.Very gentle stretching, light massage and easy walking as can be tolerated are ways to increase blood circulation to the injured muscle, speeding healing.Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the injury, and also removes damaged cells and waste products from the injury and repair process.
Strengthen.As soon as the pain has mostly subsided, the hamstring muscles will be much weaker than before.A focused strengthening program for the hamstrings is vital to get function back, and to prevent future hamstring strains.
NSAIDs.What?NO! These drugs, much like RICE therapy have fallen out of favor.NSAIDS are great at relieving pain but don’t do much else to promote tissue healing.And, they have more side effectsthan they’re worth.
Use natural anti-inflammatories and muscle repairing compounds. These can include:
MSI Supportrelieves aches and pains naturally - it contains 12+ natural pain relieving botanical medicines and nutrients.
Inflammation Relief contains systemic enzymes which break down the pain-generating chemicals the body makes in response to injury and tissue damage. It also speeds healing by improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to damaged areas.
Ligament Restore contains all the most important nutrients the connective tissues (muscle, tendons, ligaments) need to stay healthy. By providing the body with these nutrients, the connective tissues have a rich supply of all the raw materials needed for healing.
Rest with gentle movement, stretching and eventually strength training along with natural anti-inflammatories and pain relievers will help speed up the healing and recovery process from hamstring strains.