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Hamstring strains and tears: the must-know guide for runners

By on Aug 3, 2013
Image of runner stretching hamstring

Hamstrings are anatomically unusual. And injuries to the hamstring vary significantly in severity and time to heal. This article gives the lowdown on hamstring strains and tears, including causes, symptoms and – crucially – how best to set about recovering from this common injury.

More information about the article

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again! Some of the very best gems of injury advice were published several years ago and has been gathering dust. Here we take a look at one of those gems, courtesy of Runner’s World. The article gives a straight-forward guide to hamstring strains and tears. Here we give you the highlights; the full article is worth a read too.

  1. Injury to the lower part of the hamstring may well be felt behind the knee – even though the hamstrings run down the back of the thigh. There could also be visible tracking of blood down the thigh.
  2. There may be little indication of a hamstring strain when the knee is bent and the area is not under pressure. But that swiftly changes when the knee is straightened and the hamstrings stretched.
  3. Beware – other injuries (such as a Baker’s cyst or ligament strains) can result pain in the same kind of area.
  4. Initial treatment (within say the first 48 hours) revolves around the RICE method of rest, ice, compression and elevation.
  5. After this, any bleeding should have died down and stretching can begin – though if that’s still painful still, check out the guidance on hamstring tears.
  6. Medical treatment can also help the steps above (for example through interferential physiotherapy or ultrasound) and that should bring about a complete cure.
  7. Hamstring tears are characterised by sudden pain when the muscle is over-stretched, for example in a sprint-finish at the end of a race. Straightening your knee will hurt. And running will be a real struggle (and may indeed prove impossible).
  8. As with strains, an apparent tear might be something else entirely – such as damage to the sciatic nerve by a lumbar disc, which causes pain in the back of the thigh.
  9. Recovery again revolves around the RICE method – though as the author notes, this must continue through rehabilitation, as the muscle is stretched and power is regained.
  10. Time to heal may vary significantly – from days to months – depending on how serious the injury is and how quickly the tear is treated.
  11. It is not advised to run through the injury…

…Not only is the commonest cause of hamstring injury an unrehabilitated prior tear, but a weak hamstring muscle also predisposes to knee injury…

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