One of the most common sports injuries—especially in sports that require sprinting—is a pulled hamstring. Track, soccer and basketball athletes are the most susceptible to hamstring pulls. A pulled hamstring will typically heal on its own and does not require surgery, but it can still keep athletes on the bench for months.
So what can you expect if you pull a hamstring muscle?
- Cause of injury: A hamstring strain occurs when the muscle is overstretched or overworked, typically during rapid acceleration activities. Hamstring muscle injuries can range from a minor strain (a grade I tear) to a major rupture (a grade III tear). If you experience muscle tightness, muscle imbalance or muscle fatigue, your risk of pulling a hamstring is higher. It’s important to condition properly to prevent these risk factors.
- Symptoms: If you strain your hamstring muscle during an athletic activity, you will feel a sharp, unexpected pain in the back of your thigh. In addition to the pain, you will likely notice swelling within a few hours of the injury, bruising or discoloration on the back of your leg and weakness in your hamstring muscle that may go on for several weeks.
- Treatment: As soon as you suspect a hamstring strain, it’s important to see a doctor to make sure it’s not a severe muscle injury. Your doctor may suggest an X-ray or an MRI to determine exactly what the injury is. If your doctor confirms it’s a hamstring strain, the strain will most likely heal on its own with the RICE treatment: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to wear a knee splint temporarily or attend physical therapy sessions to build the strength of the muscle back up. Surgery can usually be avoided unless the tendon has pulled away from the bone completely.
While a hamstring strain can seem debilitating when it occurs, most people who injure their hamstring muscles are able to make a full recovery and return to the activities they love. It’s crucial to listen to your doctor’s advice and only return to sports upon his or her approval. To avoid reinjuring your hamstring, follow your doctor’s treatment plan closely. Multiple injuries to a hamstring increase your risk of permanent damage.