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Hamstrung: Don't Neglect the Back of Your Legs

Posted 4/8/2016 by UHBlog

Preventing a hamstring injury requires proper preparation before physical activity. See us for help.

Hamstrung: Don’t Neglect the Back of Your Legs

A popped “hammy” is a common curse of many athletes – from weekend warriors to professionals. Depending on the severity of the muscle strain or tear, a hamstring injury can put you out of action for days, weeks or even months.

“Hamstring strains and tears are among the most common injuries we see in athletes,” says sports medicine specialist James Voos, MD.

What is commonly called the hamstring is actually a set of three muscles in the back of the thigh: the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris. As you probably have seen during professional baseball and basketball games, even world-class athletes injure their hamstrings.

“Hamstring injuries normally result from rapid, explosive bursts of energy, like in sprinting or running to first base to beat the throw,” Dr. Voos says.

During quick acceleration, the quadriceps muscle in the front of the thigh contracts rapidly – sometimes too quickly for the hamstring to keep up.

“Hamstring injuries can occur at any age, but over time, these muscles can get tighter,” he says. “That’s especially true if you spend a lot of time sitting or remaining static as you work. If you start to have other issues like lower back problems or early hip arthritis, those types of conditions can also lead to tight hamstrings.”

According to Dr. Voos, hamstring injuries normally announce themselves with a sudden “pop” in the back of the thigh, usually followed by pain and tightening of the area. Severe cases can cause visible bruising.

“There are different severity levels in hamstring injuries,” he says. “They range from minor strains where the muscle fibers get slightly stretched to more severe injuries where the muscle fibers actually tear. Those can result in severe pain and difficulty bearing weight.”

Preventing a hamstring injury starts with a proper warm-up, Dr. Voos says.

“A dynamic warm-up is the key to reducing the risk of injuring a hamstring,” he says. “It’s a good idea to engage in a daily routine that stretches out all of the major muscles in the body. But what’s more important just before playing a soccer game, a racquetball match or any other sport activity is a dynamic warm-up to get the blood flowing to your muscles and to get the muscles stretched out.”

A dynamic warm-up can be as simple as a light five-minute jog or bike ride, or doing some side shuffles.

“Doing that type of warm-up is more helpful than just doing static stretches before a workout,” he says. “But you should still stretch out after the warm-up. To reduce the chances of a hamstring injury, you also want to stretch the muscles above and below the hamstring.”

Drinking plenty of water to keep muscles hydrated can also help prevent injuries.

If you do strain your hamstring, “RICE” it. This stands for:

  • Resting the leg
  • Icing the area with cold packs for 20 minutes at a time throughout the day
  • Compressing the area with a compression bandage
  • Elevating the leg to reduce swelling

“Rest is the best treatment for a hamstring injury,” Dr. Voos says. “This isn’t the kind of injury that you want to play through. That is likely to make it worse and extend recovery time. There is a tendency for athletes to get back into action too soon and re-aggravate the injury.”

James Voos, MD is an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine director at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, and head team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Voos or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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