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Uh-oh I Pulled a Hammie!

November 16, 2012 by  
Filed under Featured Articles

How to Recover from Hamstring Injury

By Nicolette House

If athletes pull a hamstring muscle they know it. Pain in the body is a good indicator that something has gone awry. If the pain isn’t unbearable, however, many athletes may opt to play through the injury or ignore it until it becomes a chronic condition. Coaches may take the “if they can walk, they can play” stance when it comes coping with a strained muscle.

Taking the one or two weeks necessary to properly nurse an injured muscle will actually propel athletes to greater success in the future. The injury will not become a chronic condition that may require surgery or keep them out of the sport for months.

What is a hamstring tear?

When the hamstring muscle physically tears, the result is a hamstring strain or pull. All those involved in physical activity are at risk for injuring their hamstring. The more strain an activity places on the hamstring the more susceptible athletes are to a tear.

Figure skaters are prime targets for hamstring injury due to all of the difficult spin and spirals positions they practice each day. These positions require strength and extreme flexibility. If the muscles are pushed too far before they are ready, the result can be a serious injury.

Causes and Symptoms of Hamstring Injury

Overtraining and overuse can result in a hamstring tear. Muscles being asked to constantly stretch beyond their capabilities will eventually be pushed to a breaking point. Acute events, such as sitting too low in the splits can also cause the hamstring to tear.

Good flexibility can mean the difference between staying healthy and succumbing to a hamstring strain. The more “give” muscles have the better able they are to sustain deep stretches. An awkward fall or movement is less likely to cause injury in more flexible athletes.

“It’s more common to tear the lateral or outside, part of your hamstring rather than the inside,” says Anthony Cukierski, Certified Athletic Trainer.

Athletes will most likely feel a hamstring strain the moment it occurs. Point tenderness, sharp stabbing pains, and an immediate loss of flexibility accompany a feeling of the muscles being “ripped”.

“There can be bruising and redness around the torn area. In more severe cases, there can be deformity-athletes can feel a divot or lump of tissue at the point of injury,” notes Cukierski.

Low-grade tears will be harder to detect. Athletes may continue to play a game despite a small amount of pain. The next day they will feel stiffness, soreness, and notice a distinct lack of flexibility.

Avoid overusing an injured hamstring

Regardless of the severity of hamstring injury, it is essential that athletes rest and assess the damage before they return to physical activity. Cukierski notes that allowing the muscle to rest and heal are  key pieces in the rehabilitation puzzle. Athletes often overlook them.

Training on an injured hamstring can lead to a buildup of scar tissue, a very immobile and inflexible tissue, around the inflamed area. The body lays down scar tissue to repair hamstring strains and other skeletal-muscular injuries.

“If you are chronically tearing your hamstring, overtime the body will adapt to that. It will lay down scar tissue. If lots of scar tissue gets laid down you’ll lose lots of flexibility and performance may be hampered in some way,” says Cukierski.

Treating hamstring injury

When injury occurs athletic trainers typically have their patients refrain from physical activity for one to two weeks. Athletes should be pain free before they resume training. Then, exercise can be slowly reintroduced into their routines at various intensities.

During the recovery phrase its important that athletes continue doing gentle and light stretches. Some movement is necessary to prevent the muscle from healing in a shortened and less flexible position.

“As you start participating in activities you will still feel some residual pain. However, athletes will be able to tell the difference between soreness and pain from the injury,” says Cukierski.

Ice the injured spot immediately if possible and frequently in the days following the injury.

“Twenty minutes on, forty minutes off is a good rule of thumb,” says Cukierski.

To maintain flexibility during and after the recovery phase, Cukierski takes his clients through a series of light stretches that include dead lifts with little to no weight and placing the injured leg on a chair and gently stretching forward.

Cukierski cautions athletes to be wary of their backs during dead lifts and to only stretch to the point that they feel moderate discomfort. Recovery takes time and rushing it can lead to further injury.

Preventing Hamstring Injury

If athletes want to avoid hamstring injury all together they need to begin each practice with a warm-up routine suited to their physical activity.

“Let your muscles adapt to whatever activity you’re doing instead of doing full sprints right away,” says Cukierski.

Remember that flexibility is key to preventing hamstring injuries. Stretch after practice when muscles are warm.

“Recovery from a hamstring injury is possible,’ says Cukierski.

Tony Cukierski is a Certfied Athletic Trainer at ATI Phsyical Therapy. He is a    certfied Holistic Health Counselor and President of Nourshing4Life Health    and Wellness

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