Hamstring Muscle Injuries
The hamstring muscles – semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris, run down the back of the thigh. These muscles help you to bend your knee. However, hamstring muscle sprains are common, especially in athletes who participate in sports that require sprinting and jumping, such as track, soccer, and basketball.
A muscle strain is graded according to its severity:
- Grade 1 – mild and usually heals readily
- Grade 2 – more extensive damage with more muscle fibres involved but the muscle is not completely ruptured
- Grade 3 – a complete tear of the muscle that may take months to heal
You will notice a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh if you strain your hamstring while sprinting. Other common symptoms include:
- Swelling during the first few hours after injury
- Bruising or discolouration on the back of your leg or below the knee
- Weakness in your hamstring that can persist for weeks
The main cause of a hamstring muscle injury is due to muscle overload. This happens when the muscle is stretched beyond its capacity or challenged with a sudden, heavy load. Apart from this, there are other risk factors, such as:
Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain which is why regular stretching especially before a strenuous activity is important.
When one muscle group is much stronger than its opposing muscle group, it causes an imbalance which can lead to a strain. This frequently happens with the hamstring muscles as the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh are usually more powerful, resulting in the hamstring becoming fatigued faster than the quadriceps.
Weak muscles are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and are more likely to be injured.
This can follow prolonged, strenuous activity. Fatigue can reduce the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscles, making them more susceptible to injury.
Choice of activity
Those at higher risk of hamstring muscle injuries include runners or sprinters, athletes who participate in sports like basketball, dancers and adolescent athletes who are still growing.
Your orthopaedic specialist will start off with a physical examination of the back of the thigh to check for any tenderness or bruising. Sometimes a lump can be felt as the muscle contracts upon itself due to a loss of attachment.
You may be required to undergo an X-ray to rule out other causes of thigh pain. An MRI or ultrasound scan may be needed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity and extent of the tear.
Treatment options vary according to the type of injury you have, its severity, and your own needs and expectations. Most hamstring muscle injuries heal well with non-surgical treatments such as rest, icing, compression, and elevation (RICE therapy). You are advised to reduce your activity, allowing the muscle to heal. Physical therapy is useful to initially stretch the injured muscle and scar tissue to maintain flexibility, and subsequently, strengthening exercises are added to restore muscle strength. In higher grade tears, platelet rich plasma injections can be considered to potentially speed up the healing of hamstring injuries.
Surgical repair of hamstring tears is usually offered with failure of conservative treatment, especially in grade 3 tears, in active individuals.
Every case is different; hence it is best to consult an orthopaedic specialist for an accurate diagnosis so that you can obtain the best treatment option that is most suitable for you. Reach out to us today if you suspect you are suffering from a hamstring muscle injury and let us help you enjoy a better quality of life.