A hamstring injury occurs when you strain or pull one of your hamstring muscles — the group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh.
You may be more likely to get a hamstring injury if you play soccer, basketball, football, tennis or a similar sport that involves sprinting with sudden stops and starts. Hamstring injury can occur in runners and in dancers as well.
Self-care measures such as rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications are often all you need to relieve the pain and swelling associated with a hamstring injury. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair a torn muscle.
A hamstring injury typically causes a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh. You might also feel a popping or tearing sensation. Swelling and tenderness usually develop within a few hours. You may also experience bruising or discoloration along the back of your leg, as well as muscle weakness or an inability to put weight on your injured leg.
When to see a doctor
The hamstring muscles are a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh from your hip to just below your knee. These muscles make it possible to extend your leg straight behind your body and to bend your knee. When any one of these muscles stretches beyond its limit during physical activity, injury can result.
Hamstring injury risk factors include:
Returning to strenuous activities before your hamstring muscles are completely healed might cause an injury recurrence. In some cases, a recurrent hamstring injury may be more severe than the original injury.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine, such as someone in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.
What you can do
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness along the back of your thigh. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage. Your doctor might also move your injured leg into a variety of positions to help pinpoint which muscle has been injured and if you also have any ligament or tendon damage.
Treatments and drugs
The initial goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. To accomplish this, your doctor may recommend that you do the following:
To stretch your hamstring muscles, extend one leg out in front of you and then lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your thigh. Repeat with the other leg. Don't bounce. ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
For immediate self-care of a hamstring injury, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation. If your injury is worse than a minor muscle strain, you'll want your doctor and physical therapist to help you with this process:
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), also can be helpful. After a few days, gently begin to use the injured leg. You should notice a gradual, progressive improvement in your leg's ability to support your weight and your ability to move without pain.
As part of an overall physical conditioning program, regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help to minimize your risk of hamstring injury. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don't play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries. Ask your doctor about appropriate conditioning exercises.
Last Updated: 2012-12-05
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