What is a Hamstring Tear and how do I Know if I Have One?
Your hamstring is made up of a group of 3 muscles that contribute to the movement of knee flexion and hip extension, useful in daily activities like walking, sitting and bending over. A hamstring tear usually happens suddenly, and an immediate sharp pain will present on the back of your leg with swelling and soreness following a few hours after. An MRI is usually used to determine the severity of injury as hamstrings can tear to different grades. A Grade 1 hamstring tear (more commonly called hamstring strain) will cause sudden pain and it will be a struggle to move your leg, but the overall strength of the muscles will not be massively affected. Grade 2 tears on the other hand are usually a heightened version of Grade 1; being more painful with more struggle to move and in some cases, the onset of bruising. A Grade 3 tear is when the muscle rips completely off of the bone meaning that the effects will be even further heightened, strength of the muscle will significantly decrease, and movements of the leg will be almost impossible without pain. A Grade 3 is usually detectable if following a loud ‘popping’ sound.
Potential Causes for a Grade 1 or Grade 2 Hamstring Tear:
The most common cause of a hamstring tear is when the hamstring is stretched beyond its limit when performing a task. Tasks of a more explosive nature like sprinting and jumping are the most common cause of a hamstring tear, but they can also occur from more gradual movements that overstretch the hamstring if you are not careful. You are at a higher risk if your knees hyperextend and straighten past the normal range.
Recovering from an injury like a hamstring tear can take anywhere between 2 weeks to 3 months, depending on the severity of the injury. However, during the first few days of the injury, it is important to undergo RICE therapy.
Rest – resting the leg by not moving it as much as possible and avoiding physical activity where possible. A GP might suggest using crutches for the first few days following the onset of injury.
Ice – Using a cold ice pack, apply this to your leg for 10-20 minutes every couple of hours throughout the day to limit and swelling and pain.
Compression – apply a simple elasticated bandage around your leg to compress it and prevent any further swelling as this may cause more damage to the existing injury.
Elevation – try to keep your leg up as often as possible, above the heart rate is preferable. This will help to reduce swelling and speed up the recovery time.
Returning to Exercise:
Returning immediately back into exercise could make your injury much worse, and also increase the risk of reoccurrence as you’re more likely to injure your hamstring if it has been injured before. However, avoiding exercise for too long can cause muscle atrophy, making the muscle weaker, again putting it at a higher risk of getting injured. It is suggested that you begin to perform some very light hamstring stretches and in some cases light jogging a few days after the injury has occurred. If the pain has begun to decline. By doing this, you will help prevent the loss of the hamstring muscle mass. These simple stretches should be followed by simple exercises such as running, cycling or swimming when it is felt that these activities won’t worsen the injury. Following this, homework exercises will be provided to regain strength in the limb in an attempt to get your leg back to being ready for more intense activities.
With Grade 1 or 2 hamstring tears you should reassess your injury after a couple of weeks to see if you are ready to enter back into higher intensity activities and sports. Be mindful that your hamstrings need to be strong enough to re-enter into sport to make sure injury won’t occur immediately. The length of time needed for rest and recovery will be dependent on the injury sustained.
If you need assistance in your recovery journey or want to discuss your injury rehabilitation with an expert book an athlete phone screening today to see how The Rehab Hub can fast track your recovery and get you back to playing sport safely.