Hamstring Injury: The Most Common Sporting Injury?

The Most Common Sporting Injury

We’ll admit – sometimes, particularly during certain sporting seasons, we could swear that ‘pulled hammies’ are the most common injury given how many walk (or specifically, limp) into the clinic here at The Podiatrist!

Hamstring injuries are in no short supply amongst both social and elite athletes, across a range of activities like AFL, soccer, tennis, dancing, skating, skiing, athletics and various types of running. They are the most common injury in the AFL and are estimated to account for over 35% of all muscle injuries in soccer.

So, what is a hamstring injury?

A hamstring injury is a strain or a tear in one or more of the muscles or tendons of the hamstrings, caused by overextension (moving the leg and muscles beyond its normal range of movement) or overloading (excessive force applied to the hamstrings). Hamstring injuries are typically split into three categories:

  • Grade 1 – Pull or strain
  • Grade 2 – Partial muscle tear
  • Grade 3 – Complete muscle tear

These injuries tend to occur in any sport which involves rapid acceleration as this places large forces on the leg muscles, which if not correctly balanced or controlled, can cause damage.

Now, onto how hamstring injuries can occur, what you can do to prevent them and if you do suffer from one, how we can help you recover (and avoid a repeat!).

What are the hamstring muscles and how do they work?

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles at the back of the thigh. The muscles include the:

  • Biceps Femoris
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus

The hamstring muscles are connected to bone via tendons at both ends of the muscle. At the top, they are attached to the pelvis, and at the bottom they are attached to the shin bones just below the knee.

Your hamstrings have an important function – to bend your knee and extend your hip. This is the opposite of the quadriceps (the big group of muscles at the front of the thigh) which work to straighten the leg.

What are the symptoms of a hamstring injury and how are they diagnosed?

Diagnosis for a hamstring injury can be made right here in the clinic with an examination and looking over your history. You may be referred for imaging study using x ray, CT or MRI, if further information is required. Symptoms will vary depending on severity but can include:

  • Pain when sitting or walking up hills or stairs
  • Delayed or immediate sharp pain (depending on severity)
  • Tenderness
  • Muscle tightness
  • Pain when you bend the leg
  • A popping sensation at the time of injury
  • Inflammation immediately after the injury
  • Bruising as the inflammation subsides
  • Weakness in the injured leg
  • Difficulty bearing weight on the affected leg

How do we treat hamstring injuries?

Treating hamstring injuries does vary depending on the severity but begins by minimising the painful symptoms using the PRICE principles (protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation).

After any initial swelling and bleeding has been stopped and the severity of the injury has been diagnosed, treatment of the actual injury can start. Conversative treatment is recommended in the majority of cases as the first call, and may include:

  • Strengthening weakened muscles
  • Biomechanical assessment and correction
  • Gait retraining to work on proper technique and reduce the risk of future injury
  • Stretching tight muscles that may have contributed to the injury
  • Increasing core stability
  • Injection therapy

If we don’t see a significant improvement using conservative treatment, or you have severe symptoms which indicate a complete tear, surgery may be required to repair the damage. In this case, we will connect you with a trusted specialist surgeon.

How long will it take for you to recover?

Treatment and recovery times are heavily dependent on how severe your injury is and how many times it has occurred previously. Minor strains may be recovered within a week or two, but severe damage may take over three months to fully heal and restore strength and flexibility.

Can I do anything to protect myself?

There are some well documented risk factors for hamstring injury

  • Previous hamstring injury
  • Increasing age
  • Sudden acceleration and deceleration, like when walking/running and stopping suddenly
  • Poor flexibility
  • Biomechanical motion – the way your lower limbs function and the movements they pass through

Here at The Podiatrist, we are experts in lower limb function and health. Regardless of whether you have injured yourself recently, or in the past where it has never healed properly, our podiatrists can help. We will perform a thorough biomechanical assessment to find out what’s going on and develop a specific management plan just for you. This will include ongoing monitoring to ensure you don’t risk your recovery by returning too early.

While we can’t change your age (we wish!), we can help with everything else. Your prevention plan will focus on

  • Performing your regular activities and sports without overloading the hamstring muscles
  • Muscle stretching
  • Muscle strengthening
  • Improving the range of motion in your legs and feet, where restrictions are present

We want to get you back to doing what you love without pain – so if you’re worried about your legs or you’ve suffered an injury – whether it’s painful or not – we’d love to help. We’ve been helping our community in Toowoomba & Darling Downs for over 20 years. To book an appointment, call us on book your appointment online here.

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