If a sports injury causes sudden, throbbing pain at the back of the thigh, it may be a hamstring injury. A hamstring injury occurs when you strain or pull one of your hamstring muscles – a group of muscles located on the back of the thigh. This injury is quite common in people who play soccer, basketball, football, tennis or similar sports that involve sprinting with sudden stops and starts. The injury can also occur in runners and in dancers. Most hamstring injuries respond well to simple, self-care measures such as rest, ice/heat application, over-the-counter medications and other non-surgical treatment modalities. Orthopedics services in Brooklyn based healthcare centers involve the use of nonsurgical modalities for different types of sports injuries and conditions, including hamstring strains.
One of the main causes of hamstring injury is muscle overload. Injuries occur when these muscles get stretched too far or are taxed too suddenly. While they can occur due to sudden movements such as sprinting, lunging or jumping, they can also happen gradually or during slower movements that stretch the hamstring too much.
Factors can increase your risk of suffering hamstring injury include muscle imbalances, prior muscle injuries, and poor flexibility and fatigue in the muscles. Returning to strenuous activities before the hamstring muscles are completely healed might cause recurrence of the injury.
Identifying the Symptoms
Mild hamstring strains may feel more like a tightness or low-grade ache in your hamstring. On the other hand, severe strains can be extremely painful, making it impossible for a person to even walk or stand. Common symptoms include –
- Sudden, sharp pain along with a snapping or popping sensation
- Pain in the back of the thigh and lower buttock when walking, straightening the leg, or bending over
- Muscle weakness or an inability to put weight on your injured leg
- Hamstring tenderness
- Difficulty in taking large steps or walking quickly, or pain with climbing stairs
- Difficulty in fully straightening your knee without pain
- Difficulty and pain with running
- Bruising or discoloration along the back of your leg
The pain can range from mild to severe, and the exact location of symptoms may vary from person to person.
Nonsurgical Treatment Options
The initial goal of treating hamstring muscle injuries is to reduce pain and swelling. Recovering from a hamstring injury may take days, weeks or months. The length of the recovery period would depend on the severity of strain or tear.
As part of the initial treatment (during the first 2 – 3 days), pain management doctors recommend taking adequate rest and avoiding strenuous activities.
- Rest – Keep your leg as still as you possibly can and avoid any kind of physical activity.
- Using a cane or crutches – Using a cane or crutches can help you avoid putting your full weight on your injured leg.
- Ice application – Applying cold packs to your injured hamstring muscles for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day will help reduce swelling. However, do not apply ice directly to your skin.
- Heat application – Applying heat packs prior to exercising help warm up the injured muscle and loosens the tissues. Many patients find contrast treatment (alternatively warming and icing the injured area) extremely beneficial.
- Compression – Compressing or wrapping the injured area with a simple elastic bandage can reduce swelling and control movement that could cause further damage.
- Elevation – Keeping your leg raised and supported on a pillow as much as possible can help reduce swelling.
- Taking over-the-counter pain medications – Pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) will reduce pain and inflammation.
In most cases, hamstring injuries respond well to initial home treatment and heal within a few days. However, if your pain is not going away or your symptoms are getting worse, it is important to consult your physician. Sports injuries treatment in Brooklyn healthcare centers involve a combination of non-surgical modalities to reduce pain, tenderness and weakness in the hamstring muscles. These include –
- Physical therapy – Returning to strenuous exercises too quickly could make your injury worse. However, avoiding exercise for a long period can also cause your hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissue to form around the tear. In order to avoid this, you should start doing physical therapy exercises after a few days, when the pain starts to subside. Therapeutic exercise programs involving gentle stretching; strengthening and aerobic exercises help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.
- Chiropractic care – Chiropractic treatment helps fix the normal alignment of the joints, reduces inflammation, and allows the damaged tendons to heal more quickly.
- Game Ready Cold Therapy and Compression – Game Ready system involves the combined application of controlled cold therapy and intermittent compression to promote tendon healing.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – TENS uses low voltage electric stimulation to relieve pain.
Severe cases of hamstring injury will require surgery and several months of rest.
Preventing Hamstring Injuries
Not all hamstring strains can be prevented. However, people who come under the higher risk group can take several steps to prevent the occurrence of injury. Prevention steps include –
- Warming up before working out or playing sports – static stretching and strengthening exercises can reduce hamstring injury risk
- Exercising regularly can help maintain cardiovascular and muscle fitness, and prevent injuries related to fatigue
- Taking regular breaks between exercise sessions (particularly hard physical sessions)