Most athletes are all too familiar with hamstring injuries. The reality is that being fast on your feet can increase your likelihood of having a hamstring strain. However, everyone is at risk for hamstring injuries. Some factors that can increase the chances of injuring your hamstring muscles include:
- Decreased flexibility.
- A habit of not warming up properly.
- Previous leg injuries.
- Muscle fatigue.
- Weak muscles.
The hard truth about hamstring injuries is that prevention truly is the best medicine. In studies, stretching has been shown to help decrease hamstring injuries during sprinting. That’s why being proactive about keeping muscles strong and flexible is so important. However, it’s still possible to speed up hamstring healing if you have sustained an injury. For many people, working with a chiropractor to learn proper hamstring stretching techniques is the secret to healthy, happy hamstrings that can carry them to the finish line!
How Can You Know If You Have a Hamstring Injury?
Are you dealing with pain in your leg that you suspect could be a hamstring injury? While not all leg pain is automatically indicative of a pulled or torn hamstring, there are some telltale signs of a hamstring injury. Here’s a look:
- A popping or snapping feeling in the back of the thigh.
- Sudden, intense pain.
- Pain in the back of the thigh when walking.
- Pain in the back of the thigh when bending the knee.
- Visible bruising on the back of the thigh.
- Swelling in the back of the thigh.
Don’t ignore a hamstring injury! While simple rest can help to soothe pain, it’s often necessary to go through a recovery process to heal the injured muscles in the back of your thigh. The good news is that hamstrings can heal fully if you can be patient enough to apply the rest and rehabilitation needed. Giving your hamstrings the attention needed to heal isn’t just important for feeling better in the moment. This is one type of injury where getting hurt once can greatly increase your chances of being hurt again. In fact, having a prior hamstring injury is one of the biggest risk factors for developing a new hamstring injury. The bottom line? Seek physical therapy or chiropractic care to heal your hamstring fully before jumping back into action to enjoy a better recovery today that’s accompanied by a lower chance of having a painful, serious recurring injury.
The Mechanics of a Hamstring Injury
When discovering how to treat a hamstring injury, understanding the underlying cause of the injury can be helpful for “backtracking” your way to recovery. Let’s start by discussing how the hamstrings fit in with the leg’s anatomy. Located on the back of the thigh, the hamstrings form a muscle group that opposes the quadriceps muscle group located on the front of the thigh. Quadriceps allow you to perform hip flex and knee extension. By contrast, your hamstrings control hip extension and knee flex. The two muscle groups work together to ensure that your knee joint remains stable while you’re partaking in fast, hard movements like jogging.
There’s a reason why hamstring injuries are much more common than quadriceps injuries even though both muscle groups are located in the thigh. The hamstring muscles are at a disadvantage simply because you use them less throughout the course of a day. As a result, almost everyone has hamstrings that are weaker than their quadriceps. During the course of an average day, we engage our quadriceps when we’re sitting, standing, kneeling, and walking. Any time that we spend with our legs flexed is time spent engaging our quadriceps. This creates a strength imbalance where the hamstrings are simply weaker. As a rule of physiology, weaker muscles are simply more likely to be injured.
Stretching to Prevent Hamstring Injuries
Even elite athletes can’t escape the reality that hamstrings tend to be weaker than other leg muscles. This is where the importance of stretching and engaging our hamstrings becomes so important for preventing hamstring injuries! When developing a plan for stretching to prevent hamstring injuries, the following goals should be at the forefront:
- 1. Strengthening the body’s core for more efficient movements.
- 2. Strengthening the hamstring muscles.
- 3. Increasing flexibility within the quadriceps.
Ultimately, this is the formula for creating the right balance for preventing injuries. The fact that hamstring injuries happen in the blink of an eye means that trying to “think your way” out of hurting your hamstring muscles is essentially impossible. The goal is to set your body up to have the right balance to reduce the likelihood that the impact felt by the hamstrings will create a chain reaction that ends in strain, pain, and injury.
Using Stretching to Prevent Hamstring Injuries
If you’ve already had a hamstring injury, it’s so important to have your leg looked at by a professional. The last thing you want to do is to exacerbate an existing injury by trying out a new stretch that isn’t suited for the state that you’re in. This is the danger of simply looking up stretching exercises for hamstrings online. In reality, any untrained person can simply post stretches to get clicks! Following the advice of someone who is not trained and certified can put you in a world of pain if you haven’t taken your own unique physiology into account.
When you work with a physical therapist or chiropractor, you’ll be able to learn stretching techniques for preventing hamstring injuries that can safely and effectively allow you to strengthen and elongate your hamstrings while building balance throughout your core and quadriceps for that full-picture approach to injury prevention. In addition to helping you to prevent hamstring injuries, stretches can also give you a competitive advantage by helping your muscles to be more effective! Here are some common stretching styles used to prevent hamstring injuries:
- “1-leg slideboard eccentric hamstring” stretch.
- “2-leg slideboard leg curl” stretch.
- Long level bridges.
- Single-leg, stiff-leg deadlifts.
Again, trying to advance your way through stretches can be harmful if you don’t have proper training. It’s also important to get clearance for doing certain stretches because of how strenuous they are. Ideally, you will work your way from a “level-1” hamstring stretch all the way up to a “level-4” hamstring stretch incrementally. However, trying to work your way through these complex tiers too quickly can cause strain that truly does more harm than good!
What to Do If You Suspect You Have a Hamstring Injury Right Now
If you have a fresh hamstring injury, it’s not necessarily the time to focus on stretches. The best thing you can do is to rest your leg. This means keeping weight off of the entire leg. Do seek emergency care! In some cases, you may need crutches to safely rest your leg. While you wait for care, things like icing your leg, keeping your leg elevated, and wearing a compression bandage can help.
Once you’ve been evaluated, the plan to create a path back to optimal performance through physical rehabilitation should begin! Make a plan to work with a chiropractor or physical therapist to restore strength and flexibility once you’ve allowed your leg to rest. In addition to treating the injured thigh, it will be essential to begin work on fortifying the unharmed thigh to avoid the same type of injury.
Stopping hamstring injuries takes patience. When it comes to balancing out a muscle group that is simply weaker based on physiology, time is your greatest asset. The good news is that the injury-preventing benefits of hamstring stretches also create stronger, more efficient thighs that are capable of better performance! If you need hamstring support, Integrative Physical Health can help you to move past injuries. Contact our office today to book an appointment!