Why are hamstring injuries so common, and what can you do to prevent them?
Effective hamstring injury treatment & hamstring stretching exercises are vital to the overall health and condition of the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles are very susceptible to tears, strains and other common sporting injuries.
Those athletes particularly vulnerable are competitors involved in sports which require a high degree of speed, power and agility. Sports such as Track & Field (especially the sprinting events) and other sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis and football seem to have more than their fair share of hamstring injuries.
Lets start by having a quick look at the particular muscles which make up the hamstrings and where exactly they’re located. We’ll then move onto some common causes of hamstring injuries and finally look at some preventative measures and treatments.
The hamstring group of muscles, located at the back of the upper leg, are actually a group of three separate muscles. The top of these muscles are attached to the lower part of the pelvis and the bottom of the hamstring muscles are attached to the lower leg bone just below the knee joint. The technical or anatomical names for the three hamstring muscles are semimembranosus, semitendinosus and biceps femoris.
The picture to the right shows the muscles located at the rear of the upper right leg. The three specific hamstring muscles can be seen on the picture, by looking for the anatomical names located half way down the right hand side.
Now that we know exactly what and where the hamstrings are, lets take a look at some of the most common causes for hamstring injuries. By far the most common cause of hamstring injuries originates from an imbalance between the quadriceps muscles (located at the front of the upper leg) and the hamstring muscles.
The quadriceps are a very large, strong group of muscles which help to extend the leg. These muscles can become so strong that they overpower the hamstrings, putting a massive amount of tension on the hamstring muscles. Combine strong quadriceps with weak hamstrings and you have a hamstring injury waiting to happen.
Other factors which contribute to hamstring injuries are a lack of flexibility and poor strength of the hamstring muscles. Also, when the hamstrings become fatigued or tired they are more susceptible to injuries.
The best preventative measures involve a consistent program of both stretching and strengthening exercises. Increased flexibility will contribute greatly to the ability of the hamstring muscles to resist strains and injury. To follow are two very effective and very safe hamstring stretches.
In the stretch to the left, simply kneel down on one knee and place your other leg straight out in front with your heal on the ground. Keep your back straight. Make sure your toes are pointing straight up and gently reach towards your toes with one hand. Use your other arm for balance. Hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times.
In the stretch to the right, stand with one foot raised onto a chair, fence railing or similar object. Keep your raised leg slightly bent, with your toes on the edge of the chair. Let your heal drop off the edge of the chair. Keep your back straight and gently move your chest towards your raised leg. As above, hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times.
Stretching is one of the most under-utilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating sprain and strain injury. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching won’t be effective.
For an easy-to-use, quick reference guide of 135 clear photographs of every possible stretching exercise, for every major muscle group in your body, get a copy of The Stretching Handbook. You’ll also learn the benefits of flexibility; the rules for safe stretching; and how to stretch properly.
Warming up correctly will also contribute greatly to reducing the likelihood of a hamstring injury, and don’t just stretch before you exercise. Make sure you stretch both before and after any physical activity. Dedicate time to your entire flexibility, this will not only help you avoid injury, it will also make you a better athlete.
If you do happen to suffer from a hamstring injury, it’s important that correct first aid principles are applied immediately. The RICER regime explains the correct treatment for all muscle strain injuries. RICER stand for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and then obtaining a Referral from a qualified sports doctor or physiotherapist. So, as soon as a hamstring injury occurs, rest the injured limb, apply ice to the effected area, apply a compression bandage and elevate the limb if possible. This treatment needs to continue for at least 48 to 72 hours. This is the most critical time for the injured area, correct treatment now can mean the difference between an annoying injury or a permanent, re-occurring, debilitating injury.
After the first 72 hours obtain a referral from a qualified professional and start a comprehensive rehabilitation program. This should include a great deal of strength and stretching exercises, as well as other rehabilitation activities such as massage and ultra-sound.