Your hamstring muscles run down the back of your upper legs and actually are more than one muscle. The hamstring group is made up of a group of three muscles that attach at the pelvis, cross over the knee and attach again at the lower leg. These three muscles are responsible for helping you to extend your leg and bend your knee. The three muscles are called the Semitendinosus, Semimembransus and Biceps Femoris. Although they cross the knee and attach on the lower leg in different areas, they all start at the ischial tuberosity on the lower pelvis.
An injury is most common in athletes who participate in sports that require a quick take off such a sprinters, track athletes, basketball or soccer. Other sports that require more stretching of the muscle, like dancing or gymnastics, will also increase your risk of developing a hamstring injury.
Not only a particular sport will increase your risk but also a lack of flexibility in the hamstrings or the opposing muscle group, the quadriceps. Poor flexibility will reduce the ability of the muscle to bear the full force of action of your activities. A previous hamstring injury or sprain will increase your risk, as will muscle imbalance – when the opposing group of muscles (quadriceps) are over or under developed compared to the hamstring muscles.
There are three levels of strain – a Grade 1 in which there is a mild muscle strain. Grade 2 results in a partial muscle tear and Grade 3 is a complete muscle tear. Recovery and treatment will depend in part on the grade of the injury, the sport to which you are returning, your ability to maintain rehabilitation and your previous level of athletic activity or functional ability.
After a hamstring strain it will be difficult and painful to walk and you’ll find that the upper leg will swell and be tender. To help in the healing process you can use a knee spint for a short time to give the hamstring muscle some support, crutches if you can’t put weight on the leg and compression bandage to reduce swelling and give the muscle some support.
The first goal is to reduce pain and swelling. You can not continue your athletic activities at the risk of permanent injury. Apply ice to the area several times per day and rest with the leg elevated above your heart to improve drainage from the leg. Each of these factors is part of the RICE protocol for sports related injury; Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
Early use of RICE in the rehabilitation of the area will increase the probability that the muscle will regain full function and a quicker return to your sporting event. A Grade 1 injury will often result in pain for a little less than a week, while Grade 2 or 3 may result in pain for a few weeks to a month.
Take care if the pain, swelling or bruising is close to the knee or buttocks because the muscle may have been pulled from the bone and you could require a referral to an orthopedic doctor for full recovery.
Once the pain has gone down significantly you can start with light stretching and light physical activity. It is VERY important not to resume your previous level of activity immediately and to address the reason why the injury happened in the first place. If it was a lack of flexibility or an imbalance in muscle strength, address those issues first.
A hamstring injury can recur or your hamstring can tear if you haven’t fully recovered and you return too quickly to activity.
MedlinePlus: Hamstring Strain
SportsInjuryClinic: Hamstring Strain
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Hamstring Mucls Injureis
MayoClniic: Hamstring Injury
KidsHealth: Hamstring Strain