Hamstring Strains: What They Are and What to Do About Them

Although common, hamstring injuries can prevent you from enjoying your favorite activities or sports. They frequently occur in athletes, especially those in sports that require sprinting, such as track, soccer and basketball. The hamstring muscles run down the back of the thigh and include three different muscles: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris.

Muscle strains are graded from a 1 (mild) to a 3 (complete tear of the muscle). A grade 1 strain usually heals readily, while a grade 3 tear can take months to heal.

Muscle overload is the most common cause of a hamstring muscle strain, occurring when the muscle is stretched beyond its capabilities. Eccentric contraction—when the muscle lengthens as it shortens—occurs when you extend a muscle while it is loaded. Muscle tightness, muscle imbalance, and poor conditioning can all increase your likelihood of getting a hamstring injury.

Your doctor will do a physical examination and possibly imaging tests (X-ray or MRI) to help determine the severity of your injury. Treatment options may be nonsurgical or surgical.

Nonsurgical treatment is helpful for most hamstring strains. The RICE protocol (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) should allow these milder strains to heal very well.

Surgical treatment is usually required for tendon avulsion injuries, where the tendon has completely pulled away from the bone. Rehabilitation may include crutches and a brace. Physical therapy and strengthening exercises will be added gradually. It takes between 3 and 6 months to return to athletic injury after surgery.