Hamstring injuries are common among individuals with an active lifestyle, especially for athletes in sports that involve high speed running or kicking. Sports like track-and-field, soccer, dancing, football, long-distance running, and water-skiing all have a heightened risk for hamstring issues. Erratic contraction of the hamstrings while running at high speeds, quick-burst movements, and sudden trauma are believed to cause these injuries.
Three muscles make up the hamstring (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris), starting from the bottom of the pelvis (ischial tuberosity) down to the knee joint where the muscles connect with tendons to attach to the bones. Your hamstrings allow you to bend your knee and help with hip extension, though this is primarily done by the gluteus Maximus.
There are two prominent types of hamstring injuries – tears to the muscle belly (the thick part of the muscle or where muscle fibers join tendon fibers) and acute avulsions to the tendon (when the tendon completely tears away from the bone). The sciatic nerve running from the lower back down the back of the legs may also be compromised during hamstring trauma, due to its proximity.
Injuries arising from a single abrupt trauma rather than from smaller cumulative injuries tend to be more serious and affect younger patients (age < 25). However, with increasing age the likelihood of injury increases. The risk factors associated with this injury include, the type of sport, poor flexibility, asymmetric strength, and above all prior injury.
With so many variables to consider, how do you prevent hamstring injuries? What are the most important risks to be aware of, how should you treat a hamstring injury, and what is the best way to recover?
A review titled “Hamstring Injuries – Risk Factors, Treatment, and Rehabilitation” published by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery evaluated 9 different contemporary studies exploring predictive factors, diagnosis strategies, treatment methods, and recovery techniques for hamstring injuries. The studies involved varying sample sizes and methodologies tailored to their respective topics.
- The most predictive factor for a hamstring injury is any previous hamstring injury including sprains, tears, and avulsions. When a patient has a history of hamstring injuries, they’re also likely to have a longer recovery time – especially recreational athletes compared to professionals. The importance of early intervention cannot be overstated; one of the major reasons rec athlete’s recovery time is longer than the pros is because they prolong their first consultation and treatment. If you may have experienced hamstring injury, contact a sports medicine expert
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) edges out ultrasound as the best means of evaluating the extent of a hamstring injury and whether surgical intervention is warranted.
- Muscle belly tears are often better treated with conservative treatment, whereas hamstring avulsions may be better treated with surgery depending on the displacement of the tendon.
- Conservative treatments such as RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), nonsteroidal injections (anti-inflammatory drugs), physical therapy, stretching, PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injections, and corticosteroid injections are indicated for acute hamstring strains, partial tears, and single-tendon avulsions. PRP injections combined with rehab exercises for hamstring injury, like physical therapy, is more effective than rehab exercises alone.
- Surgical repair of complete proximal hamstring ruptures, both acute and chronic, results in improved outcomes compared with nonoperative management.
- Repair of acute proximal hamstring tendon tears results in better functional outcomes than repair of chronic tears. Again, how long a hamstring injury takes to heal and the effectiveness of recovery depends on early intervention.
- Stretching and strengthening the hamstring tendons with eccentric exercise is helpful in conjunction with physical therapy after injury. Strengthening, Stretching, control of early inflammation, and massage of scar tissue all may reduce the risk of re-injury, or may prevent hamstring injuries altogether.
Having a better understanding of hamstring injuries allows clinicians to provide better treatment and patients to manage their injury most effectively. If you have questions regarding hamstring injuries or would like to schedule an appointment, contact our sports injury clinic.