Jul 29 2015
Ohhh those pesky hamstrings: why we injure them, healing and strengthening, and how chiropractic treatment can help
The term ‘hamstrings’ actually encompasses three muscles and their adjoining tendons that are located on the back of each thigh, the biceps femoris, semitendinousus, and semimembranosus. Two of these muscles are located down the inner side of the back of the leg, and one is on the outside. The function of the hamstrings are to help bend the knee and move the thigh backwards, or decelerate the thigh as it moves forward.
Unfortunately, the hamstrings are not as elastic or “stretchy” compared to other large muscle groups, and are under a lot of stress when we play sports or undergo rigorous physical activity.
Types of hamstring injuries:
Injuries to hamstrings are one of the most common sports related injuries, and are graded depending on severity. A Grade 1 injury might just be a slight twinge or strain. A Grade 2 injury is more of a ‘pop’ or pull, and a Grade 3 hamstring injury could be a full tear or severe pull.
We usually strain our hamstring suddenly and in one of two ways: either from sprinting or high intensity athletics or movements, or stretch related injuries where the hamstring is pulled too far, such as with Cross Fit, gymnastics, or martial arts.
Why do these injuries happen? When we are sprinting, hamstrings are usually compromised lower down the back of the thigh, on the tendon where the long head of the biceps femoris muscle meets. During the running motion, the hamstring muscles work overtime to decelerate the lower leg just before your foot hits the ground, and that’s why it may be injured.
Conversely, over-stretch type injuries may build up over time, the hamstring being strained in the same area over and over until it eventually gives, or the overstretching happens all at once, but not from the same causes and in the same place.
When you injure your hamstrings happens, you are usually tearing or partially tearing the muscle or tendon, which comes with a sudden shooting pain and even a popping noise.
When a hamstring is injured there is usually swelling and bruising, though the bruise can appear a little later. If the tear is severe enough, a hardened lump may appear on the hamstring and it will be tender to the touch.
Causes of hamstring injuries:
Why are do athletes and weekend warriors injure their hamstrings so often, while the same people may go though their whole lives without one single thigh injury?
One reason can be genetics, as some people are born with shorter hamstrings, or they grow too slow compared to the rest of their body when they are young.
But the hamstrings just tend to be less elastic than other muscles and weaker at the tendon connection. Overuse is another reason we injure our hamstrings, fatigue from exercising, or often we perform intensive athletic movements without properly warming up the muscles behind the leg. As we get older, we naturally lose some of our elasticity and range of motion, too.
The healing process for hamstring injuries depends on the severity and type of the injury. A minor pull or strain may heal fully within a couple weeks, but more severe tears can take three months or more to heal.
The problem is that we shouldn’t use our hamstrings during the recovery period, but people often come back and start working out again too quickly, which can cause reinjury or chronic problems.
When you first feel a hamstring injury, you should remember the acronym “RICE”.
You should avoid putting any weight on the leg and rest it as much as possible, even using crutches if necessary.
As soon as possible, add ice to the injured area, wrapping it in a towel. Apply ice every two or three hours for the first couple days to help reduce pain and swelling.
Wrapping the leg with a bandage will help minimize bleeding in the muscle and reduce swelling. A compression bandage or sleeve (though not too tight) will also protect you from strain as you walk around, avoiding reinjury.
Elevate the leg higher than the chest, which will help blood flow and also fluid to drain from the injury
As soon as it feels comfortable and pain free, you should start doing light stretching, warming up and working the hamstring. Keep stretching it during the recovery process but give a hamstring injury plenty of time to fully heal before exercising again, or else it is far more likely to happen again.
So what can you do to prevent your hamstrings from being injured, and protect them after recovery?
Many hamstring injuries are brought on because we don’t properly warm up before exerting ourselves. Warming up brings blood and oxygen to the hamstrings, easing into their maximum flexibility. You should also work into sprints and other strenuous exercise slowly, paying attention to how your hamstrings and other muscles feel. If you feel any strain or tightness, slow down and stretch or warm up some more.
Swimming is a great exercise that stretches and strengths your hamstrings without the danger of injury, and running up stairs and doing lunges (when healthy) will strengthen them as well.
There are more specific stretches and exercises you can do to improve the flexibility and strength of your hamstrings and help prevent injuries. Email us and we’d be happy to share those.
How chiropractic treatment will help:
Just like anything in the fine-tuned system that is your body, hamstrings don’t exist and work in isolation. In fact, problems with the lower back or pelvis will increase the prevalence of hamstring injuries. If you have ongoing problems with your hamstrings or recurring strains, it’s time to check in with your chiropractor. We will examine your entire “kinetic chain” from your feet, knees, hamstrings, hips, pelvis, and lower back. We can also look at the biomechanics of how you run, exercise, or your posture at work or studying, which can all affect your propensity to injury your hamstrings.
Chiropractic adjustment and spinal manipulation can correct issues, increasing nerve stimulation in the hamstrings or injured areas, increasing strength, flexibility, and protecting them from getting injured in the future.
If you’d like more information about your hamstrings, sports injuries, or how chiropractic care can help, please get in touch!