Hamstring Strain, What Is It? 

By Lisa Thomson, DC
Categories: , , ,

Medical massage at the leg in a physiotherapy center. Female physiotherapist inspecting her patient.

Hamstring Strain, What Is It? 

The hamstring muscles are the group of 3 muscles that are located in the back of the thigh.  When the hamstring muscles experience a rapid or violent stretch it can create tears in the attached tendons, or the muscles themselves.  Hamstring strains can be classified by severity:

  • Grade 1 (mild strain):  A few fibers are torn. Typically causes minor discomfort, some tightness in the back of the leg and minimal to no swelling.
  • Grade 2 (moderate strain): More fibers are torn. Pain is typically felt immediately and it is difficult to walk normally without pain.  Some swelling and bruising may show up after the injury occurs.
  • Grade 3 (severe strain):  More than half of the muscle or tendon fibers are torn.  A grade 3 strain could also be a complete tear.  Severe pain is felt immediately.  A ‘pop’ is sometimes heard or felt. Bruising and swelling are very likely to follow.  The hamstrings will be unable to perform their normal movements. 

What Are The Common Causes?

Hamstring injuries are statistically one of the most common sports related injuries. They are also one of the most common recurring injuries.  One study found that more than ⅓ of hamstring injuries will reoccur within the first year2of playing a sport.  Sprinting, jumping, running on uneven surfaces, twisting, falls and contact related sports injuries are all common causes.

Risk factors include a history of previous injury, poor core stability, sex, muscle imbalances, fatigue, inadequate warm-ups, flexibility and older age.

What Are My Treatment Options?

The treatment of the hamstring strain will depend on the severity of the damage. If the treating the hamstring at home Some popular at home treatment options include:

  1. Rest the hamstring – take a break from activity.
  2. Ice – Icing the injury is recommended in the acute phase (within the first 48 hours)
  3. Heat – after the first 48 hours, heat may be used to help prepare the muscle for activity and to improve blood flow.
  4. Anti-inflammatories to control pain
  5. Sports specific rehabilitation
  6. Injury specific rehabilitation
  7. Surgery
  8. PRP injections

When Should I Seek Additional Help?

You may want to consider seeking additional help when the injury is perceived as moderate to severe. If you are an athlete and and wish to return to play, seeking additional help may help reduce the risk of the injury reoccurring. It is important before returning to play that adequate time is given for the injury to heal.  It is also beneficial to make sure potential muscle imbalances are assessed and addressed. 

Who Should I Go To For Treatment?

A trained physiotherapist or chiropractor who has experience with sports related injuries should be able to assess and properly rehabilitate most hamstring strains.  If you suspect a severe tear, it might be necessary to seek additional care from an orthopedist. 

  1. Brockett, CL, Morgan, DL, Proske, U. Predicting hamstring strain injury in elite athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2004: 36: 379– 387.
  2. Kujala UM, Orava S, Järvinen M. Hamstring injuries. Current trends in treatment and prevention. Sports Med 1997 Jun; 23 (6): 397–404
  3. Croisier JL, Ganteaume S, Binet J, et al. Strength imbalances and prevention of hamstring injury in professional soccer players: a prospective study. Am J Sports Med 2008 Aug; 36 (8): 1469–75
  4. Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation, and Injury Prevention Published: Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2010 Volume:40 Issue:2 Pages:67–81