Hamstring injuries, tears, and strains are common among sportspeople. They commonly occur in sports that require high speed, explosive power, and agility.
Types of Hamstring Injuries
Hamstring usually occurs during these activities:
Sprinting: usually during high speed running or during acceleration/deceleration.
Stretching: during activities, such as kicking, splitting for dancers, or gliding in soccer.
The muscles that most commonly tear during sprinting and stretching are your biceps, femoris, and semimembranosus. Hamstrings can occur due to various reasons. Some of these are:
- Increasing age
- Ethnicity (Aboriginal and African athletes are more prone)
- Reduced hamstring flexibility.
- Decreased hamstring power
- Poor warm-up
- Previous injury
- Neural tension
- Fatigue (transpire at the end of a game)
- Previous ACL reconstruction which applied a hamstring graft
When Do Hamstring Injuries Occur?
A person's entire thigh consists of two opposing muscle groups called the quadriceps on the front and the hamstrings on the backside. The hamstring is responsible for the opposite functions of knee extension and hip flexion. Both of these muscle groups work for the stability of the knee joint, especially in activities like running.
The quadriceps are the larger, stronger, and more dominant muscle group as they are the most frequently used. Hence, the hamstrings are the weaker muscle group, so they have a higher risk of injury. Given both of these muscles, the quadriceps and hamstrings cross the hip and knee, making them more prone to injury.
Returning to strenuous exercise abruptly can make your injury worse. At the same time, avoiding exercising for long periods can cause the hamstring muscle to shrink and scar tissue that may result in tearing. To prevent this from happening, you should start with gentle hamstring stretches, and you will notice that the pain will begin to subside after a few days.
During sprinting, your hamstring produces a vast amount of force every time your feet are in contact with the ground to move forward. As you propel forward and with the ground's extra external force, you can sometimes injure your hamstrings. This commonly occurs during the later part of the "swing phase" of your sprint, when your knee is extending or in a straight position. It is because your hamstrings are trying to contract and shorten in preparation for your feet to strike the ground. Since this situation is happening very fast, it creates a large amount of pull on your muscles.
Best Strength Exercises for Prevention of Hamstring Injuries
There is a higher rate of hamstring re-injury, resulting in massive complications of an initial hamstring strain. There are about 50% re-injuries incidents that occur in the first 25 days of returning to sports. So a long-term hamstring "rehab" program is essential in these kinds of sports where hamstring injuries are likely to happen or have previously occurred.
A good strength routine should specifically target strengthening the hamstring muscles, strengthening the core, and improving your quadriceps muscles' flexibility. Current hamstring strength programs have been shown to focus on eccentric strength. Eccentric strength refers to strength training while a muscle is lengthening. You can strengthen muscles while lengthening, shortening, or being stationary. Concentric strength and isometric strength refer to strength training while a muscle is shortening and not changing length, respectively.
- The Nordic Hamstring
This exercise starts by kneeling and digging your toes into the ground and making your feet anchored down. While doing it, keep your hips upright and stay tall during the entire movement. Lower your body toward the ground for five seconds. Once you are down on the ground, bring back your body to the starting position with your hands.
- Arabesques (also known as single leg stiff leg deadlifts)
Start without weight. Stand with both legs under your hips, transfer your weight to one leg and gently bend this knee. Begin hinging your hips while keeping your trunk straight and slide your other foot back as if you were kicking something behind you. Follow the imaginary straight line from your head to your foot as you return back up to an upright position.
Begin in an upright position with your one hand holding to support and with your legs slightly split. Place your weight to the heel of your one leg, and your knee should be slightly bent. Glide your free leg backward. This is usually done (the gliding leg) on a slippery surface.
- Long Lever Bridges
Lie on your back and put one foot on a bench while keeping your knees slightly bent. Push up through your heel to lift your bottom off the ground. Keep control of your bottom as you bring it back to the ground.
- Reverse Plank With Leg Lifts
Focus on the erector spinae muscles of your back and glutes. Lie faceup with your weight on your elbows and heels. Lift your hips, followed by lifting your right leg up. Hold it for a few seconds. While keeping your hips raised, switch your legs. Alternate your legs every after 30 to 60 seconds. This exercise can improve your running performance.
Works in lower abdominals by dynamic exercise that mimics running. To start, lie on your back. Bend your right knee and raise your leg so that your right shin will be lateral to the ground. Lift your leg two, three inches above the floor. Hold it for two seconds, then shift legs. Alternate legs for 30 to 60 seconds.
- Advanced Plank
Focus on the core muscles that retain the pelvis neutral while exciting the glutes. Begin in a plank, creating a straight line from head to feet. Brace your abs and lift your leg and right arm. Hold for two seconds, squeeze your glutes and get back to start.
Depending on the severity of your hamstring injury, it may take days, weeks to heal, or months if it is completely torn. At this period, you need to avoid sports for weeks to avoid injuring yourself again. But the best way to solve this problem is to prevent it in the first place. Most hamstring injuries can be attended at home and prevented with the help of those stretches. Consider seeing a professional if you have any concerns regarding your injury, especially if you think it is severe, not healing, and symptoms are getting worse.
Visit Dr. Grindstaff at ChiroRehab of Texas to learn how to address your injury and help you get back to your normal activities and what exercises you should do to aid your recovery.