By: Chris Green, ATC/L, CSCS
Spring is here, warmer weather is coming and more people will be participating in outdoor recreational activities, many of which involve running. Unfortunately this increase in activity also leads to an increase in injuries.
Did you know that hamstring injuries are the most common lower extremity injury? The hamstring muscle is one of the largest muscle groups in the body and aids in the movement of two different joints, the hip and the knee. The hamstring plays a primary role in both hip extension and knee flexion which are both required in activities like running, jumping and squatting. Because of the involvement the hamstring muscle has in the performance of physical activities, it is easy to understand how if injured it can significantly impact an individual’s overall function and athletic performance.
Hamstring strains occur most commonly in sports like soccer, football, baseball, sprinting, and jumping. Hamstring injuries happen frequently, are difficult to treat, and have a reoccurrence rate as high as 54.5 percent within one year of returning to activities. Typically hamstring injuries occur in one of two ways, by explosive high speed running or by stretching movements throughout extreme ranges of motion.
A hamstring injury can often be attributed to one or more of the following factors: poor lumbar posture; a previous injury; lack of flexibility; inadequate warm-up; fatigue; strength imbalance; inadequate quad to hamstring ratio; or poor coordination. One of the primary concerns with hamstring injuries is that they are not properly treated. All too often an individual will think that a little rest and stretching alone will fix the problem. Many athletes assume that if the pain goes away then the injury must be fine and it is safe to resume normal activity; however, this often leads to a reoccurrence of the same injury or worse.
When a person injures a muscle they have to remember that just because it stops hurting does not mean it is properly healed. When an individual sustains a soft tissue injury such as a hamstring strain or tear the body starts trying to heal itself with new tissue. The problem is that new tissue is both shorter and less elastic than the original, leading to decreased flexibility and adaptations to normal muscle function which leaves an individual at increased risk of additional soft tissue damage if not properly rehabilitated.
Rehabilitation of a hamstring injury should be specific to each individual depending on the extent of injury, mechanism or cause of injury, and activity level. The treatment time can range from 6-50 weeks with the average time being 16 weeks according to research. The key to a fast and safe recovery is early and proper rehabilitation. An individual should have good flexibility, pain free functional strength, and no altered biomechanical movement patterns before returning to full participation in sporting activities. For more information on athletic injuries contact an athletic trainer in the Sports Medicine Department at Physical Therapy Specialists Clinic at 417-256-5669.