How to heal hamstring strain: Treatment, physical therapy, exercises, recovery time, and prevention
A hamstring strain can be a painful injury located in the muscles of the leg. The hamstring muscles consist of three posterior thigh muscles located between the hip and the knee, otherwise known as the back of the thigh. The Biceps Femoris muscle, the Semitendinosus muscle, and the Semimembranosus muscle, all begin as a tendon that inserts on to the pelvic bone. These muscles then continue down the length of the femur bone, crossing the back of the knee to attach to the bones of the lower leg, the tibia, and fibula. Additionally, a small portion of the hamstring muscle spans across the hip joint.
The hamstring muscles work together with the quadriceps muscles to help control power and stability of the knee joint. This allows us to easily perform movements such as walking, running, jumping, and squatting.
Knowing where the hamstring muscles attach to the bones of the leg and pelvis can give you a good idea of how they may become injured.
Hamstring strain treatment
Injury to the hamstring muscles will likely result in swelling, tenderness, and pain. As a result, all actions that require this muscle group will elicit pain, like when you are walking or running. In order to help promote healing and recovery of the hamstring muscle, performing the following may prove beneficial:
- Rest: Constantly putting stress on your muscles will make it difficult for the recovery process. Not taking the time to rest will often worsen hamstring pain.
- Ice: This may be done by simply applying ice on the affected area to help reduce pain and swelling. Using an ice pack is ideal, but ice cubes in a towel or a bag of frozen vegetables will also do the trick. It is recommended to ice the affected part of the body for about 15 to 20 minutes every two to four hours.
- Compression and elevation: Wrapping up the affected thigh with compression bandages help to reduce swelling and pain. Additionally, raising the leg slightly will aid in swelling reduction by preventing the pooling of blood.
- Pain medication: The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be a useful add-on for further reducing pain and swelling. Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and several others that are prescription strength. It is important to follow the doctor’s directions when using these drugs as they also may have side effects.
Physical therapy for pulled hamstring
Physical therapy is one of the most common treatments for hamstring strains, helping to increase the range of motion and strengthen muscles. Physical therapy and rehabilitation programs can be done via hands-on sessions with a physical therapist or be learned to perform at home. However, physical therapy is only effective if done regularly. The goal is to restore a patient’s level of functioning as much as possible while simultaneously minimizing the risk of reinjury.
Due to their high incidence rate, slow rate of healing, and persistent symptoms, hamstring injuries can be quite a challenge to overcome for the injured and clinicians treating them. It is estimated that nearly one-third of hamstring injuries recur within the first year following a return to sport or physical activity, with the subsequent reinjury being more severe than the original.
One such physical therapy technique, known as deep stripping massage, can be used in combination with other commonly used treatment. The effects of deep stripping massage results in an increased hamstring length in less than three minutes, improving flexibility, but does not affect the strength of the muscle.
The use of kinesiology tape, a type of elastic adhesive, has also proven to be efficient at improving muscle flexibility and reduce the risk of injury. This device is almost identical to human skin in both thickness and elasticity and is commonly used by athletes for treating injuries and a variety of physical disorders.
Exercises and stretches for pulled hamstring
Performing targeted hamstring stretches and strengthening exercises can aid in the recovery process. It is important to identify whether your particular strain is minor or severe, as it dictates the level of intensity you should begin at. Over time, your muscles will get stronger, allowing you to regain the ability to perform your previous enjoyed physical activity. It is recommended to perform a five-minute warm up with light cardio before attempting any of the following hamstring exercises after getting the go-ahead from your doctor beforehand.
- Effective Chair Stretches: Begin by sitting in a chair with your knees bent at 90 degrees. Now raise the foot of your injured leg off the floor and straighten out your leg as much as possible while still being comfortable. Hold your leg out for at least 20 seconds before bringing it back down to the ground. Repeat this stretch five times on both sides to obtain an even level of flexibility in both legs.
- Using the Wall: Using a wall for support, lie on the floor with one leg extended through a door opening and the other leg bent with your foot on the wall next to the door frame. Now slide your foot up and down the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch in your hamstring. Hold this stretch for at least 20 seconds, performing at least five repetitions.
- Lying Strengthening Exercises: By using your body weight, you can strengthen your hamstring muscles. Begin by lying face down with both legs extending out. Now bend one knee and bring your heel to your buttocks for five seconds. Perform two sets of 15 repetitions with each leg. Once this part of the exercise is completed, remain lying face down with both legs extended out straight and raise one leg off the ground as high as possible. Repeat this additional exercise 15 times before switching to the opposite leg. You may eventually add weights to this exercise as your hamstrings become stronger.
- Curls and Step-Ups: These exercises are recommended once you have gained some strength in your legs. Begin curls by tying one end of an exercise band to an immovable object and the other end to your ankle. Then sit on a chair with your knee extended. Now flex or bend your knee to the ground. This will stretch the band and activate your hamstring. Step-ups can be done by simply stepping up and stepping down from a platform high enough to activate the hamstrings, such as a sturdy chair. For each exercise, perform two sets of 15 repetitions.
- Standing Hamstring Stretch: Begin by bending one leg in front of you with the forward foot flexed toward you. Bend the knee of the other leg slightly while leaning back a bit. Keep your pelvis tilted forward, and slowly bend down to reach your flexed toes. You should feel the stretch up the back of the extended leg through the calf and thigh. Hold this stretch for 20 to 30 seconds before you release, then repeat two to three times before switching to the opposite leg. This stretch is ideal for those who like to run, sprint, or perform field sports.
- Seated Hamstring Stretch: Begin by sitting on the floor with both legs stretched out in front of you with knees straight. Slowly lean forward with your hips and try your best to reach your toes. Try not to bend your knees to get a good stretch in your hamstrings. Once you have reached as far as you can go, hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Partner Stretch: With the help of a friend, you can obtain a deep hamstring stretch. Begin by laying down with your back to the ground. Have your partner lift one leg up, while you keep it straight. Your partner should now gently raise your leg, extending it straight upward. It is important to not overstretch and to maintain contact with your partner to avoid this from happening. Repeat this exercise two to three times on both legs.
- Foam Roller Exercise: With the use of a foam roller, you can perform a self-massage and myofascial release. Start in a seated position on the floor, with both legs extended straight out. Place the foam roller under your buttock and begin rolling back and forth and slightly side to side. This will help to release any tight muscles. Additionally, bring the roller down the leg while supporting your weight by placing both hands on the floor behind you. Now slowly roll the device down from the buttock down to the knee and back focusing on sore spots.
Recovery time and tips for pulled hamstring
Recovery from hamstring injuries will depend on the severity of the injury, as well as your body’s ability to heal itself. Additionally, your adherence to recommended physical therapy regimes and treatment plans will be a deciding factor to how quick your hamstring recovers.
It is generally recommended not to engage in any strenuous physical activity until you feel your injured leg can move as freely as your uninjured leg and it’s regained its strength. Pushing yourself too hard before your injury has fully healed can lead to reinjury, or even permanent muscle dysfunction.
It is important to remember that every patient progresses differently, so give yourself the right amount time before you re-start any type of strenuous exercise.
Prevention of hamstring strain
To give yourself the best chance of preventing hamstring injuries in the first place, it is a good idea to warm up and stretch before any type of physical activity. Increase the intensity of your exercise slowly, as going too hard too fast increases the chances of muscle injury exponentially. Stop exercising as soon as you feel you may have hurt yourself. Lastly, focus on strengthen exercises to help boost your muscle endurance.
Healing hamstring injuries or the majority of muscle injuries for that matter can be much harder than preventing them in the first place. By sticking to the tips and recommendations outlined in this article, you can be certain that you are performing to the best of your ability while keeping your safety in mind.
Related: Hamstring strain: Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment
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