You may be more likely to get a hamstring injury if you play soccer, basketball, football, tennis or a similar sport that involves sprinting with sudden stops and starts. Hamstring injury can occur in runners and in dancers as well.
Self-care measures such as rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications are often all you need to relieve the pain and swelling associated with a hamstring injury. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair a torn muscle.
A hamstring injury typically causes a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh. You might also feel a popping or tearing sensation. Swelling and tenderness usually develop within a few hours. You may also experience bruising or discoloration along the back of your leg, as well as muscle weakness or an inability to put weight on your injured leg.
When to see a doctor
Mild hamstring strains can be treated at home. But you should see a doctor if you can’t bear any weight on your injured leg or if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain.
The hamstring muscles are a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh from your hip to just below your knee. These muscles make it possible to extend your leg straight behind your body and to bend your knee. When any one of these muscles stretches beyond its limit during physical activity, injury can result.
The initial goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. To accomplish this, your doctor may recommend that you do the following:
Take a break from strenuous activities to allow the injury to heal.
Use a cane or crutches to avoiding putting your full weight on your injured leg.
Apply ice packs several times a day to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Wrap the injured area with a compression bandage or wear compression shorts to minimize swelling.
Rest with your leg elevated above the level of your heart, if possible, to improve drainage and minimize swelling.
Take an over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), to reduce pain and inflammation.
After the initial pain and swelling of a hamstring injury subside, your doctor or a physical therapist can show you how to perform specific exercises designed to improve flexibility and strengthen your hamstring muscles.
If your muscle has pulled free from where it’s connected to your pelvis or shinbone, orthopedic surgeons can reattach it. Severe muscle tears also can be repaired.
As part of an overall physical conditioning program, regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help to minimize your risk of hamstring injury. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don’t play your sport to get in shape. If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries. Ask your doctor about appropriate conditioning exercises.