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A comprehensive workout program includes hamstring muscle exercises. The goal of these exercises is typically to strengthen the hamstring. But what do you do if you or your client has a pulled hamstring muscle? Fortunately, there are a few exercises that can help with this as well.
However, it’s important to understand what this hamstring injury is and its causes, hopefully keeping a pull from happening at all. Knowing when further medical care is needed is also critical before performing corrective exercises to prevent further damage to the hamstring muscles and tendons.
A pulled hamstring is another name for a hamstring strain. Acute hamstring strains can occur when there is a pull on one or more of the hamstring muscles that stretches them too far.
This muscle pull often results in posterior thigh pain, especially when bending or straightening the knee. You may also experience swelling or bruising in the affected area. If the injury is severe, it can be difficult to walk and move around.
The best way to prevent hamstring injuries is to know what causes them. In the case of hamstring pulls, specifically, there are many potential causes.
If you don’t take the time to warm up properly, you can pull the hamstring. A good warm-up is especially important if you have tight hamstrings. It gets them flexible enough to sustain the exercise performed during the main portion of the workout.
Exercising above your fitness level can also result in a hamstring injury. You can push the muscle too far, resulting in a strain. A strain or pull can also happen if you overtrain without giving the muscle adequate time to heal.
Increasing the intensity or duration of your workout too quickly is another potential cause. This is why progressing slowly is recommended. If you try to ramp up your exercise too fast, injury can result.
Having a previous hamstring injury increases your chances of injuring this muscle again. If the injury was recent, jumping back into your workout too soon can increase this risk further.
Runners may experience a hamstring pull if they have a poor running technique. The improper technique puts more stress on the hamstring. If this stress becomes too much, it can lead to a strain or tear.
Hamstring strains are “graded” based on their level of severity. A grade 1 strain is a mild strain. This means that there will likely be some pain and swelling, but both are typically tolerable. A grade 2 strain means that you have a partial hamstring tear. In addition to pain and swelling, you may find it hard to move around or to straighten your leg. A grade 3 strain represents a full hamstring tear. Walking is extremely painful with a full tear, and swelling will likely appear instantly.
If you have any concerns that your hamstring injury may be more than a mild pulled hamstring—if it might be a grade 2 or 3—seeking medical care is important as it may not heal on its own. Additionally, trying to exercise when a partial or full tear exists may cause more damage. Signs of a severe injury include:
If you have severe pain in the hamstring area.
If you have sudden pain that won’t go away.
If you find it difficult to walk due to pain in the back of the upper leg.
Your doctor can conduct tests to determine whether you’ve pulled your hamstring muscles or if a more severe hamstring injury exists. If it is suspected that you have a hamstring tear, this type of hamstring injury can be determined by conducting imaging tests, such as ultrasounds or MRIs.
The Mayo Clinic adds that, if the hamstring tendon tear is severe, it may even pull a portion of the pelvic bone with it. This is referred to as a hamstring avulsion fracture. If this is suspected, your doctor may request an x-ray to know for sure.
Depending on the extent of your injury, surgery may be needed to repair the torn hamstring tendon. Your healthcare provider may also suggest that you engage in physical therapy. A physical therapist helps by providing exercises that can help rehab the affected area.
If the hamstring tendon tear is mild, there are a few things you can do at home to help ease the pain. One option is to use the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Rest gives the hamstring injury time to heal. Ice helps reduce pain. It also reduces swelling by constricting blood flow to the injured area. Applying a compression bandage (elastic bandage) also reduces swelling, as does elevating the leg.
Taking an over-the-counter pain medication may help reduce the pain until the hamstring injury heals. Just pay attention to how much you’re taking. The National Library of Medicine warns that taking too much of these meds can be harmful to your liver. Also, talk with your doctor if you take other medications to ensure that the pain med doesn’t interact with it negatively.
Corrective exercise can help reduce pain by improving musculoskeletal function. If the pull was caused by a tight hamstring muscle, performing these exercises can also help to release the tightness, improving hamstring flexibility. Here are five exercises to consider if you have a hamstring strain or pull.
Lying Hamstring Curl. Lie face down with your body straight and legs fully extended. Bend your knee to lift the foot of your affected leg until it is perpendicular to the floor. Then return the foot to the floor. Complete up to 12 reps. Once you can do this exercise with no pain, incorporate resistance bands to start to rebuild your hamstring strength.
Lying Hamstring Stretch. Lie on your back with your body fully extended. Lift the leg with the hamstring strain injury and grab it with your hands just below the back of the knee. Gently, extend your knee until you feel the hamstring muscle stretch. Hold for a few seconds, then release. Complete up to 12 reps.
Lying Wall Stretch. Lie on your back and prop the leg with the hamstring strain up against the wall. This is easiest when performed in a doorway. Hold the stretch for up to 60 seconds, then return the leg to the floor. Complete up to four reps.
Sitting Heel Dig. Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Lean your upper body back, holding it up by placing your palms on the floor behind your buttocks. Bend the knee of the leg with the hamstring muscle strain injury and place the butt of the heel on the floor. Press the heel into the floor, as if digging it in, and hold for a few seconds. Release the hold, relax for a few seconds, then press the heel into the floor again. Complete up to 12 reps.
Standing Hip Extension. Stand facing a wall with your feet about hip-width apart. Place your palms against the wall, about chest height. Keeping the injured leg straight, lift it back and up before returning it to the floor. Complete up to 12 reps. Once you can do this movement with no pain, add a resistance band.
Obtaining your certification in corrective exercise tells clients that you can help if they have an injury or other musculoskeletal pain. ISSA’s Corrective Exercise Specialist Certification course provides this designation. It also teaches you how to assess some of the most common muscle and joint dysfunctions.
Hamstring injury - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic. Mayoclinic.org. (2020). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hamstring-injury/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20372990.
Encyclopedia, M., & relievers, O. (2022). Over-the-counter pain relievers: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002123.htm.