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Hamstrings 101: Recognizing, preventing the most common muscle strain


h, the hamstring. This muscle which makes up the back of your thigh, is the most frequently strained muscle in the body. A hamstring strain, is both common and painful. It can affect runners, as well as football, soccer and basketball players and so on. The hamstring is actually a group of muscles called the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. Their primary function is to bend the knee and move the thigh backwards (extend the hip). During a strain, one or more of these muscles gets stretched too far, or may even start to tear. This can happen with exercise that involves a lot of running, jumping or sudden starting or stopping. Symptoms of a hamstring strain include: sudden sharp pain at the back of the thigh during exercise, possible snapping or popping feeling, pain with walking, tender to touch and sometimes bruising. It is also hard to straighten the leg or bend over when the hamstring is strained. You can get a hamstring strain if you don’t stretch or warm up properly. We here at the Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes recommend warm up with a brisk walk or jog followed by dynamic warm up of the primary muscles for your sports-specific activity prior to start of practice or competition. The majority of hamstring strains are either called first- or second-degree, or graded 1 or 2 depending on the severity. A thirddegree or grade 3 strain is rare but involves a severe or complete rupture of the muscle, which may need surgery performed by an orthopedic surgeon. Here’s a glance at the various symptoms for each type: ■ First degree/Grade 1: May have some

Health Watch Kelli Adams



July 28, 2011

tightness in the back of the thigh, or feel sore, no obvious pain or swelling, may walk normally but with some discomfort. ■ Second degree/Grade 2: May be limping when trying to walk, may have heard or felt a pop during your activity, may notice some swelling, tender to touch, may not be able to fully straighten the knee, some bruising may be present ■ Third degree/Grade 3: Most likely will need crutches, obvious swelling and bruising, severe pain when trying to bend

the knee. The best course of treatment for a hamstring strain is to see a medical professional (You can consult with your school trainer or physical therapist who may refer you to a sports medicine physician). The recommendation may include rest, ice, compression, elevation. And then, when able, practice stretching and strengthening exercises in a pain-free range of motion. When returning to your physical activity you should be able to move your leg as freely as the uninjured side, strength should be equal when compared to the uninjured side and you should not have any pain when you try to walk, jog, sprint or jump. The best way to prevent hamstring strains is to stretch and strengthen. Stop exercise if you feel pain in the back of your thigh. ✪ Kelli Adams is a physical therapist assistant for the staff of Sports Medicine For Young Athletes, a division of Children’s Hospital Oakland with a facility in also in Walnut Creek. If you have questions or comments regarding the “Health Watch” column, write the Sports Medicine For Young Athletes staff at

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EB Issue 28, 07.28.2011  

East Bay Issue 28

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