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Hamstring Injury

What is a hamstring injury?

A hamstring injury is any injury to one of the three different hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh. This type of injury may be seen as a contusion (bruise), a strain, or a tear. These muscles also cross both your hip and knee, and help extend (straighten) the hip or bend the knee. An injury to any of these muscles may cause problems with walking, jumping, or running. It may also cause the muscles to pull off part of the bone where it is connected.

What causes a hamstring injury?

Most hamstring injuries happen while playing sports, such as soccer or football. A contusion may develop when the hamstring gets a hard blow. Overstretching or too much tightening of the muscle may tear or strain your hamstring. The following may put you at a higher risk for having a hamstring injury:

  • Muscle fatigue.

  • Not warming up and stretching before doing an activity.

  • Past hamstring injury, especially if you go back to doing the activity before your injury is completely healed.

  • Poor running style, such as taking too long of a step.

  • Stiff, tight, and weak hamstring muscles.

  • Suddenly increasing the amount of your training.

  • Unequal strength of hamstring muscles.

What are the signs and symptoms of a hamstring injury?

The signs and symptoms of a hamstring injury depend on how badly the hamstring is injured. You may have pain, swelling, and bruising in the hamstring muscle area. You may feel a pop or tear and have trouble bending your knee. You may lose strength in your muscles and not be able to move your leg. Signs or symptoms of a hamstring injury may or may not show up right away when the injury happens. Problems in a mild hamstring injury may be felt only when you are resting after an activity .

How is a hamstring injury diagnosed?

  • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT or CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your hips, thighs, and legs. It may be used to look for injured bones or muscles.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging: This is also called MRI. During the MRI, pictures of your hips, thighs, and legs are taken. An MRI may be used to look for hamstring tears or other muscle injuries.

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound is a test that looks inside your body. Sound waves are used to show pictures of your muscles and tissues on a TV-like screen.

  • X-ray: This is a picture of the bones and tissues in your hip, thigh, or leg. X-rays may show other problems, such as fractures (broken bones). You may need more than one x-ray.

How is a hamstring injury treated?

The goal of treatment for a hamstring injury is to restore muscle function and prevent scar formation. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (R.I.C.E.) can initially be done to decrease pain and swelling. Treatment for a hamstring injury will depend on how severe it is. You may need one or more of the following:

  • Assistive devices: You may need to use crutches until you can put weight on your injured leg without pain. Using crutches may decrease stress and strain on your hamstring muscles.

  • Medicine: Your caregiver may give you certain medicines to decrease the pain and swelling in your muscles.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery if you have a bad hamstring strain or tear. Surgery may also be needed if pain and tightening of your injured hamstring muscle does not go away. If a part of a bone is pulled off, it may be reattached with surgery.

  • Rehabilitation: This is a program that helps your hamstring injury heal faster. This aims to bring back your hip and knee's normal range of motion and strengthen your hamstring muscles. Caregivers may use ultrasound or massage to increase blood flow to the injured area. You may do specific exercises to stretch and strengthen your hamstring muscle. Exercises that bear weight and increase range of motion may also be done as the pain decreases. These may include jogging, stationary bike riding, and swimming pool activities.
With treatment, such as rest and medicine, you have a greater chance of having a full recovery.

How can a hamstring injury be prevented?

  • Avoid sudden increases in your training. Gradually (slowly) increase time, distance, and how often you train. Sudden increases in how often you train may cause you to injure your hamstring.

  • Always warm up and stretch before starting your regular exercise. Do this for at least 15 minutes. This helps to loosen your muscles and decrease stress on your hamstring muscles. Cool down and stretch after exercising.

  • Keep your hamstring muscles strong by doing exercises. It is also important to do exercises to improve the muscles' flexibility and endurance.

  • Rest when you feel tired.

Where can I find more information?

Having a hamstring injury may be hard. You may contact the following for more information:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address: http://www.aafp.org
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    6300 North River Road
    Rosemont , IL 60018-4262
    Phone: 1- 847 - 823-7186
    Web Address: http://www.aaos.org/
  • American Physical Therapy Association
    1111 North Fairfax Street
    Alexandria , VA 22314
    Phone: 1- 800 - 999-2782
    Web Address: http://www.apta.org

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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