CNY Orthopedic Sports Medicine, PC: Article: Hamstring Strain


Hamstring Strain
Evan Herold
Copyright 2000

What is a hamstring strain? The hamstring is the large muscle on the back of your thigh. A hamstring strain is a slight tear in the muscle tissue (the Hamstring).

How does a hamstring strain occur? The most common cause of hamstring strain is due to excessive pulling on the muscle. Hamstring strains are most common in athletes who have not stretched out enough before a practice or a competition/event.

What are the signs and symptoms of hamstring strain? Typically, patients complain of one or more of the following:

  • Pain in the back of the leg, specifically the thigh muscle.
  • Pain and swelling in the back of the thigh.
  • Bruising of the thigh (sides and back).
  • Severe strains (and a tear) can be associated with significant pain, bruising and can be felt through the skin as a depression in the soft tissue.

    How is a hamstring strain diagnosed? Your physician will ask you questions about the pain around your thigh. For example when it began, did an injury precede the pain, does the pain increase with activities, does anything seem to relieve the pain. He will examine your leg and palpate (feel) the hamstring muscle-tendon complex.

    How is a hamstring strain treated? The initial goal is to control pain, reduce inflammation and swelling, and protect the injured hamstring.

    REST: Active rest means that you restrict or limit your activity always using pain as your guide. Discuss your level of activity with your doctor.

    ICE: While resting, apply ice or cold therapy to limit the swelling and reduce the pain. This may be accomplished by using a cold pack, cold therapy device or a frozen bag of peas. Apply the ice for 15 to 20 minutes every 3 to 4 hours to help alleviate the pain.

    COMPRESSION: Research has determined that one of the most effective ways to reduce swelling is to apply compression to the swollen area. Apply an elastic wrap to help control the swelling. Always begin wrapping the elastic wrap just above the knee, continuing in an upward fashion, ending just below the groin area. This promotes circulation and helps to decrease swelling.

    ELEVATION: Elevating the leg with pillows may help reduce the swelling and ease the pain and inflammation. Pillows should be used to elevate the foot of the injured leg. Raise your foot above the level of your heart. This position allows gravity to help reduce the swelling.

    Your physician may prescribe an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication) such as Advil or ibuprofen to help reduce the pain and inflammation. After the initial swelling and pain have decreased, your goal may be to strengthen muscles and gradually increase activity.

    Your physician or healthcare provider (physical therapist or athletic trainer) may recommend strengthening exercises for the hamstring muscle-tendon complex. These should be gradually introduced as prescribed. Your physician may recommend a hamstring sleeve, which will provide support, warmth and compression to the strained hamstring.

    The goal of rehabilitation is to return to your sport or activity as soon as medically possible. Hamstring strains can be prevented through proper preparation and stretching before activity, athletic events and/or competitions. Everyone, especially athletes, is anxious to return to activity. Returning to soon can cause permanent damage. Follow your physician's advice regarding your activity level and date of return. Length of recovery will vary from person to person.


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