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The dreaded hamstring strain usually strikes at the worst time. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times my hamstrings have told me, “Not today.” It wasn’t too long ago when I strained my hamstring jumping into a pool with my sons. It can happen at any time, and for me, embarrassingly enough, it occurred in front of my kids—who got a good laugh at my painful expense.
But when you’re pushing the limits of your performance, hamstring strains can and do happen. The best thing you can do is prevent hamstring strains from happening, but when it’s too late or becomes chronic, it’s Physical Therapy time. Lucky for you, if your hamstrings are a problem, we’re here to bring the PT to you.
Here, Dr Bo Babenko, PT, DPT, and Dan Swinscoe, MPT, C.S.C.S., who has over 30 years of PT experience, go into how to recognize and treat the hamstring strain. But first, a little background on the hamstring muscle.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles on the posterior thigh: biceps femoris (long and short head), semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. They originate on the posterior lower pelvis and are inserted medially and laterally below the knee on the fibula and tibia.
Except for the biceps femoris short head, which originates from the lower femur.
The main functions of the hamstrings are:
You will know if you’re like me and strained it several times. But if not, Dr. Bo will let you know.
“ The most straightforward clinical test I use is isolating the hamstring by sitting the client up or face down, bending the knee to 90 degrees, and asking them to hold it strong – if there is pain and or weakness felt in the hamstring that is highly indicative of a hamstring strain.
It is possible to have a slight strain and compensate with other aspects of the surrounding muscles, especially since the hamstring has three main portions. It is possible to strain one, and the other two can do much of the work. Pain should be a primary guide, but an assessment from a Doctor of Physical Therapy should guide your next steps to be more specific.
Often, one knows from feeling an unusual tearing sensation during exertion, and they will likely continue to have pain even with simple hamstring tasks like using one leg to kick off your shoes.” explains Babenko.
“If there is a strain, the main focus should be to rest and allow healing. Respect the body’s healing times. A grade one strain takes up to six weeks to get back to about 90% of healing. Some will be faster and others slower based on many variables, including age and diet. Getting an accurate diagnosis is crucial to ensure any exercises you introduce are safe and won’t do more harm.
When I work with these clients, I constantly communicate and introduce new exercises very gradually to ensure we are not further tearing any fibers.
We can strengthen around the hamstring with training the Adductors and Abductors. Another primary rule I give is to avoid “stretching,” aka lengthening, as this will likely create further damage and slow down or reverse some of the healing.” says Babenko.
Above is a late-stage stretch Dr. Bo uses with his clients to stop hamstring strains.
Swinscoe explains that when a hamstring strain keeps happening, there is usually something more to it.
“When a simple hamstring strain becomes chronic, or the tightness of your hamstring is chronic, it usually means the problem isn’t your hamstring. That’s just where you feel it. The problem is going to be higher up the pelvis.
For instance, if we’re doing sporting activities like sprinting, there will be an arch in the back, which is normal. What stabilizes against that is your abdominal wall, or it should.
Still, something will have to substitute when it doesn’t, and that something can be the hamstring. The hamstring can tilt your pelvis the same way your abdominal wall can, so if this problem is perpetuated, chances are your abdominal wall needs education, not necessarily strength but motor control.” explains Swimscoe.
The two exercises in the video above will give you all the ‘education’ you need.
So, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. If your hamstring problems persist, don’t hesitate to seek a Physical Therapist’s help. They do more than inflict pain for fun, you know.