A pulled hamstring is a slight tear of the hamstring muscle fibers. In minor to moderate pulls, only microscopic tearing occurs. A pull causes the muscle fibers to be stretched too far and causes bleeding within the muscle. In very severe cases, the hamstring muscle may completely rupture, and surgery is required to repair the torn ends of the muscle. Athletes who play basketball, soccer, tennis, football, or other sports that involve sudden stops and starts and sprinting are more susceptible to hamstring injuries. A hamstring pull causes a sharp, sudden pain in the back of your thigh. There may be a tearing or popping sensation, and tenderness and swelling may develop a few hours after the injury occurred. There may also be discoloration and bruising on the back of your leg, and some muscle weakness. This weakness may make it difficult to walk on your injured leg.
A hamstring pull can happen in any location along the muscle tendons. It usually occurs in the middle of the hamstring muscle, however. Hamstring pulls usually happen after a quick burst of speed by an athlete, or a sudden stop and start. This causes the muscle to quickly contract. Most of the time, it is caused by a non-contact activity. That is, it does not happen as a result of a tackle in football or a check in hockey. There are many potential risk factors for hamstring injuries. Poor stretching and an inadequate warm up can cause the hamstrings to be tight, increasing the risk of a pull. It can also occur because of an imbalance in the muscle strength (common among runners) or muscle weakness. Poor footwear can also lead to a hamstring pull, or it can be a recurrent injury, where the athlete returned to play before the previous pull was completely healed, and the hamstring was injured again.
Treatment of hamstring pulls largely depends on the severity of the injury. Athletes should stop their sport or workout immediately to avoid making the injury worse. Crutches may be required if spasms are severe or if walking is painful. Athletes should follow the RICE protocol to begin treatment. It is important to rest. This doesn’t just mean stopping playing or working out, but stopping walking as well. An ice pack should be administered on the area to help control swelling and numb the pain. Make sure you wrap the ice pack in a thin towel to avoid frost bite. Icing should be done for about 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. The third part of RICE is compression. Use an elastic bandage to compress the area, but make sure it is not so tight that it causes more discomfort. You should also keep your leg elevated above your heart to decrease swelling.
Rehabilitation and recovery can be thought of in three phases. The first phase is to decrease the inflammation of the pulled hamstring muscle. This can be done by following the RICE protocol. The second is to return normal blood supply, and the third is allowing the muscle to return to full function. Athletes should follow the RICE treatment for about a week before starting physical therapy. This can help increase your range of motion. Electrical stimulation therapy can be used to help increase blood circulation. This rehab may take a few weeks before muscle strengthening can begin. To help prevent hamstring injuries, make sure regular stretching and muscle strengthening exercise are a part of your overall exercise program. It is important to stretch before working out or playing a sport to help loosen up your hamstring muscles. Sports Injury Clinic has more information about how to effectively rehab from a pulled hamstring.