A hamstring injury can range from being very mild to severe, and they are one of the most common types of sports injuries. Understanding this critical muscle group will help you respond better when things go awry. Quick recognition and treatment will aid in your recovery and hopefully get you back in action sooner!
The hamstrings are three separate muscles, and each of these muscles operates a little differently. For example, the biceps femoris acts to flex or bend the knee and rotate and extend the hip. Next, the semimembranosus muscle that runs along the back of your thigh extends the thigh, flexes the knee, and turns the tibia. The final hamstring muscle, the semitendinosus, can be found between the other two, and it also extends the thigh, rotates the tibia, and flexes the knee.
When the hamstring muscles are pushed beyond their functional limit, an injury can occur. If you play soccer, basketball, football, or tennis, you have likely already suffered a painful hamstring injury.
Two of the most common types of hamstring injuries are known as a sprain or a contusion. The first level of sprain will see a small amount of muscle damage and a reasonably quick return to activity. However, there may be a rupture within the muscle at the second level of injury, which means more severe pain and some loss of mobility.
Finally, the most severe level of damage means a total rupture of the muscle, lots of pain, and some level of disability. With this injury, you can, unfortunately, expect a long road to recovery.
A contusion, or simply a bruise, is an area of damaged tissue where blood vessels have been ruptured. Expect to notice a range of swelling, stiffness, as well as a reduction in your range of motion with a contusion. These happen when an outside force strikes the hamstring; for example, a hockey stick or a competitor’s foot!
Generally, the pain will let you know that you have injured your hamstring. However, there are many other signs and symptoms to watch out for and to note. While the pain may be pretty mild, it can also extend to being sharp, and you may notice swelling and bruising. In addition, you may notice a popping sensation when the injury happens, and the area will likely be tender to the touch.
If the pain is severe or you cannot bear your weight, you may want to seek emergency medical treatment. In many minor cases, you can conduct your own first aid and initial treatments. The first steps are to rest the leg; you may want to raise it to help to reduce any swelling. Make good use of a few pillows under your leg to keep it high, resting, and elevated.
Use an ice compress, a frozen bag of peas, or a plastic bag of ice cubes to reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to avoid freezing the skin by keeping a cloth between your skin and ice. Icing can be done on a ten-minute on, ten minutes off cycle until the pain subsides. Talk to your health care team or pharmacist about over-the-counter pain medications to help you to ease the discomfort.
For more serious injuries, those that present with severe pain and a loss of mobility, it’s critical to seek medical attention. Getting a clear picture of the extent and type of your injury will inform your next best steps. A proper, successful recovery will depend on knowing exactly what you did and what you need to do next.
When you receive medical attention, the experts may compress your thigh using tensor bandages; their application can be tricky, so get it done right, and watch and learn so that you can reapply later! The recovery time will depend on the severity of the injury, but getting back to your activities can generally take from a few days or up to several months.