Frank was trying to beat an opposing player to a loose ball during a soccer game when he felt a sharp pain at the back of his left leg. He dropped to the ground, but when he tried to get up and walk, he fell down again and had to be helped off the field.
The next day, Frank went to see a doctor. The doctor asked him a few questions, examined his leg, and told him he had a grade 2 strain — a partial tear — of one of the muscles in his hamstring.
Three muscles run down the back of your leg, from your thigh to your knee — the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus — and help you bend your knee and extend your hip. As a group, they are known as the hamstring. A hamstring strain, sometimes called a pulled hamstring, happens when one or more of these muscles gets stretched too far and starts to tear.
Hamstring strains can be relatively mild, with little pain and a short recovery time. Or, in the case of complete muscle tears, they can require surgery to repair and put a person on crutches for weeks.
Chances are that if you strain your hamstring while running, you'll know it immediately. You'll feel a sharp pain and possibly a popping sensation at the back of your leg. You won't be able to keep running and you may fall.
Other symptoms of a hamstring strain include:
In the event of a particularly severe strain or complete tear, you may feel a gap in the torn muscle.
If your hamstring strain is severe enough that it requires medical attention, the doctor will examine your leg and ask you questions about how the injury happened and how much pain you have.
The doc also will probably press on the back of your thigh to check for swelling and tenderness. This helps the doctor figure out what grade of strain you have:
A hamstring strain generally occurs as a result of muscle overload, such as when you are running and your leg is fully extended just before your foot strikes the ground. In a situation like that, the hamstring muscles can get stretched too far, and if they're forced to take on a sudden load — like when your foot strikes the ground and all your weight is on it — they may start to tear.
People who take part in certain activities that involve sprinting or jumping (like track and field, soccer, football, lacrosse, basketball, and dance) are more at risk of getting hamstring strains. These kinds of injuries are also more common in teens who are going through growth spurts. That's because the leg bones may grow faster than a person's muscles, pulling the muscles tight and leaving them more susceptible to getting stretched too far.
Some of the more common things that can contribute to a hamstring strain include:
Keeping your muscles in good shape is the best way to prevent hamstring injuries. Here are some ways to help protect yourself against them (and other sports injuries!):
The good news is that only the most severe muscle tears require surgery. Most hamstring strains will heal on their own in a relatively short time.
To treat a hamstring strain, follow these tips:
If you have a complete tear of one of your hamstring muscles or tendons that can't be treated by other methods, your doctor might order surgery to reattach the tendon to the bone or stitch the muscle back together.
Not overdoing things is key when it comes to this type of injury. So follow your doctor's advice and don't push yourself or feel pressure to get back into sports or other activities too soon. It's easy to reinjure a hamstring.
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: March 2011
|American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) The AAOS provides information for the public on sports safety, and bone, joint, muscle, ligament and tendon injuries or conditions.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|National Athletic Trainers' Association This site contains information on certified athletic trainers and tips on preventing and healing sports injuries.|
|Safety Tips: Running Injuries can be common, and runners should always be aware of their surroundings. To keep things safe while running, follow these tips.|
|Dealing With Sports Injuries You practiced hard and made sure you wore protective gear, but you still got hurt. Read this article to find out how to take care of sports injuries - and how to avoid getting them.|
|Bones, Muscles, and Joints Our bones, muscles, and joints form our musculoskeletal system and enable us to do everyday physical activities.|
|What Happens If You Keep Playing Sports When You're Injured? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Strains and Sprains Sprains and strains are common injuries, especially for people who play hard or are into sports. Find out what they are and how to recuperate from one.|
|Sports Center This site has tips on things like preparing for a new season, handling sports pressure, staying motivated, and dealing with injuries.|
|Achilles Tendonitis If the tendon just above your heel becomes swollen or irritated due to overuse, it can lead to a painful condition called Achilles tendonitis. Find out how to treat it - and prevent it.|
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