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(Pulled Hamstrings)

Definition

A hamstring strain is damage to the muscles in the back of the thigh. These muscles run from above the hip to the knee joint. A strain is a series of small tears in the muscle. The tendon attached to the muscle may also have some damage.

Posterior Thigh Muscles
Posterior Thigh Muscles
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Causes

The damage may happen slowly over time or from an injury. Causes may be:

  • Stretching the muscle too fast or too far
  • Putting sudden stress on the muscles when they are not ready for the stress

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in male athletes. It is also more common in athletes whose sports involve high bursts of speed, such as running, hurdling, jumping, and kicking.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Prior hamstring injury
  • Not warming up muscles before using them
  • Muscles that are too tight or weak
  • Fatigue
  • An imbalance between the hamstring and quadricep muscles

Symptoms

Problems may be:

  • Pain in the back of the thigh
  • Swelling and bruising in the back of the thigh
  • Hamstring tightness or weakness
  • Problems moving the leg
  • A popping feeling at the time of the injury

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may be asked about the activities that you do. An exam will be done on the leg. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.

Images may be taken to find out how much damage there is. This can be done with:

Treatment

A small strain may heal in a few days. Severe strains may take a few months. Treatment may include:

  • Supportive care, such as rest, ice, compression, and elevating the leg
  • Crutches to keep weight off of the leg
  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Prevention

To lower the risk of a hamstring strain:

  • Strengthening the muscles in the legs
  • Warming up before activity

RESOURCES

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine  http://www.sportsmed.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  http://www.familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Orthopaedic Association  http://www.coa-aco.org 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca 

References

Hamstring muscle injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00408. Updated July 2015. Accessed May 12, 2020.

Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hamstring-strain . Updated April 30, 2018. Accessed May 12, 2020.

Valle X, L Tol J, et al. Hamstring Muscle Injuries, a Rehabilitation Protocol Purpose. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Dec;6(4):e25411.

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