Your hamstring muscles and tendons play pivotal roles in helping you stay mobile — from getting out of bed in the morning to walking, climbing stairs, and just being active throughout the day. Learning how to prevent hamstring injuries is one of the best ways to keep those muscles healthy so that you can stay active.
As a top-ranked orthopedic surgeon in Houston, Texas, Joshua Harris, MD, is dedicated to providing his patients with individualized care to help prevent hamstring injuries, as well as treat them. This simple guide can help you understand those all-important hamstring muscles a bit better, as well as teach you a few basic steps that can help prevent hamstring strains and tears.
Hamstring anatomy: The basics
You have three hamstring muscles in the back of each leg, running from the base of your pelvis down to your knees. These muscles work together to help your knees and hips bend, stretch, rotate, and extend. You use your hamstrings every time you walk, squat, sit, run, climb, and stand — in fact, just about any time you use your legs.
Hamstring injuries are widespread among athletes — in fact, they’re the most common type of sports injury. Injuries include pulls (or strains), partial tears, and complete tears. Injuries can occur in the muscle or where the muscles join the tendons that connect them to the leg bones. Some severe injuries (called avulsions) can wind up tearing away part of the bone where the tendon is attached.
Hamstring injury: Causes and symptoms
Most hamstring injuries occur due to overloading the muscles and tendons, typically when the hamstrings are stretched beyond their normal limits or when they’re forced to handle a sudden load or change in direction. Injuries tend to occur most often when the hamstring muscle is in the process of lengthening or contracting in response to a movement or loading (putting weight or stress on the muscle).
The most common symptoms of hamstring injuries include:
- Sudden or sharp pain in the back of your thigh
- Pain when placing weight on your leg
- Swelling in the back of the thigh
- Persistent weakness in your leg
Bruises or other discoloration might occur, too, typically around the knee area on the back of your leg.
Four ways to prevent hamstring injuries
In addition to the pain they can cause, hamstring injuries can take a toll on your physical activity. But there are some things you can do to reduce your risks of hamstring injuries.
#1: Strengthen your legs
Strong hamstrings can handle greater loads, so it’s important to spend some time doing exercises that isolate those muscles specifically. But don’t ignore your other leg muscles. When every muscle is strong and toned, they distribute the load more evenly for reduced risk of injury and better overall performance, too. Strength matters much more than stretching. Dr. Harris uses a world-renowned state-of-the-art program, called the Aspetar Program, which optimizes the balance between strength and stretch - Aspetar Hamstring Protocol.
#2: Stretch properly
Since many hamstring injuries are due to sudden excessive loads, warming up before working out is essential for preventing injuries. Warming up helps increase blood flow to the area so your muscles are ready for activity. The optimal warmup includes simply walking for 5 to 10 minutes before more activity. You can find a few stretching exercises here.
#3: Don’t overdo it
Muscles need exercise, but they also need rest to enable them to heal and rebuild. Muscle fatigue may be a primary cause of hamstring injuries. After a workout or play, give your muscles the rest they need to help prevent stress-related injuries.
#4: Recognize early signs of injury
If your hamstring muscles start to feel tired or achy, that’s a clear sign you need to call it quits for the day. Learning to recognize those signs — and pay attention to them — can go a long way toward preventing injuries.
If you have a hamstring injury or suspect you might have one, early treatment is crucial for preventing more serious problems. To have your hamstrings evaluated, call the office or book an appointment with Dr. Harris online today.