That seething pain which grips your thigh muscle, temporarily immobilizing your movement might be a hamstring pull. A hamstring pull is the colloquial term for a hamstring strain injury, characterized by straining of the thigh muscle to the extent of a partial or complete tear of the muscle fibers and related tissues resulting in an injury. The injury is a common occurrence among sports persons including track and field athletes, skaters and football players, etc but might affect any one involved in activities like jumping, running and climbing which includes bending of the lower limb.
A hamstring injury is one of the most common forms of lower limb injuries caused by a physical activity like sports. A recent study published by Kevin M Cross and associates of the UVA-HealthSouth Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center revealed that men were 64% more likely than women to sustain a hamstring strain while performing the same physical activity.
The study also noted that men lead the recurring hamstring strain instances by 22% as compared with women at 12%.
Pulled Hamstring Symptoms
Though it is called a hamstring, there are actually three hamstring muscles – Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus and Biceps femoris. They start at the bottom of the pelvis and cross the knee joint, ending at lower leg. The bending mechanism of the leg is controlled by the hamstring.
- Sudden acute pain in the back of your thigh is a major alarm for a hamstring pull. The pain is so excruciating that it will temporarily impair your mobility.
- A hamstring pull forces the muscle to spasm and tighten up which on palpation appears as a lump in the back of your thigh.
- In the initial hours of the injury, a swelling can be noticed.
Pulled Hamstring Causes
- Eccentric contraction is a major cause of the hamstring avulsions experienced when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity. The lengthening of the hamstring muscle as it contracts causes the hamstring to snap. Sprinting puts a load on the hamstring; muscles contract eccentrically to pull forward the body weight exerted on them, straightening the back leg while lunging forward.
- Strenuous physical activity without proper stretching will result in a hamstring pull. Before every session of physical activity, individuals should make sure they limber up.
- Muscle imbalance in our body may lead to strain in the hamstring. It is common for a muscle group to be stronger than an opposing muscle group causing a strain. The frontal muscles present in the thigh are known as the quadriceps which are usually known to overpower the hamstring muscle during a rigorous activity. This results in muscle fatigue and finally a hamstring pull.
- Weak leg muscles make it difficult to perform strenuous exercises and cause hamstring pulls on exhaustion.
A typical hamstring strain is classified into three different grades or degrees. A grade 1 hamstring injury is characterized by a cramp in the back portion of your thigh and a light pain when contracting and stretching your leg. A grade 2 hamstring strain causes pain of greater intensity than a grade 1 injury and might resulting in a swelling on the hamstring muscle. A grade 3 hamstring strain is a serious injury with a constant throbbing pain and formation of a lump of muscle tissue above a depression where the tear is.
- A doctor will try to determine the severity of the injury by a primary physical exam and locating the hamstring strain by palpation.
- In a case of Grade 3 hamstring strain, a X-Ray report might be suggested to confirm if a hamstring tendon avulsion has occurred which is when the tendon pulls away a piece of the bone attached to it.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) might be recommended to produce images of damage to the hamstring muscle so as to gauge the need of surgical intervention in recovery.
Treatment of a hamstring pull depends on the kind of injury you have suffered. Most grade 1 and grade 2 hamstring strains can be treated with non-surgical means, helping you to return to physical activities in a couple of weeks.
Non surgical treatment
- The most recommended treatment program for hamstring injury is RICE protocol – Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. The RICE method reduces bleeding and damage within muscle tissue.
- Rest is an important part of the recovery process. Minimize any kind of physical activity and if the need arises to traverse long distances, make use of crutches.
- Ice should be used in ice packs and wrapped in a cloth to reduce direct contact on your skin.
- During most of your resting period, tie the strained limb higher than your heart.
- When suffering from a hamstring injury if you fail to take rest, you might exacerbate the pull and worsen the injury grade.
- A knee splint might be recommended by the doctor to keep your leg in a neutral position.
- Once the initial pain and swelling dies down, physical therapy sessions are initiated to regain full physical control and strength.
Surgery is performed in those cases where the hamstring tendon avulsion has caused it to be pulled apart from the bone. Doctors may resort to surgery in an attempt to repair a completely torn muscle.
The procedure includes stapling or stitching back the tendon to the bone in its original place.
Pulled Hamstring Recovery Measures
A recent study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy by Brandon Schmidt and Malachy McHugh shed light on the new concept of lengthened state eccentric training for recovery and rehabilitation, post hamstring injury. The training spans over 3 phases at the end of which any patient suffering from a hamstring pull should have full strength throughout the range of motion.
Preventing Recurrent Injury
- A small number of preventive measures can go a long way in saving you a from a hamstring strain and bed confinement due to the rest commitment required for injury treatment.
- Before indulging in any kind of physical activity, make sure you do enough warm up exercises to limber up your body. You should include skips, short stride cariocas, side shuffles, leg cycling, ankle pops and many more exercises mentioned in this publication for preventive measures by Mark A. Sherry.
- Don’t indulge in strenuous exercises if you have already suffered from a hamstring injury as it increases the odds by 30% for a recurring injury.