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Why Hamstring Strains Occur and How to Prevent Them

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Hamstring, Hammies, Hams, or if you're feeling fancy you can use their latin names. Keep in mind there are three muscles that make up the group of muscles called the hamstrings, they are biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus.

This group of muscles is a notorious repeat offender for injuries, across numerous sports. AFL, soccer, rugby, cricket and baseball players are all frequently falling victim to the sharp pain in the back of the thigh that can mean anything from missing a few games to ending a career.

There have been a number of superstars with their futures in doubt due to the injury, just to name a few; Michael Clarke (cricket), Chris Judd (AFL), Jamie Lyon (NRL). And more recently Cale Hooker (AFL) was in doubt to play against Geelong in the last preseason game.

What puts someone at risk of a Hamstring Injury?
When all of the studies looking into risk of injury are combined we get a good overall picture of the elements that increase the risk that someone's hamstring will be injured.

As we noted with the ACL injuries (ACL injuries in females), there are a number of factors that contribute to an injury. Some of these we can influence and others are out of our hands.

The two big factors we cannot change that influence your risk of injury are age and previous history of hamstring injury (or previous ACL/knee injury)1.

Though if you haven't had a hamstring injury before, perhaps now is the best time to see a Bodywise Health Physiotherapist for a personalised preventative program.

The good news is there are a number of risk factors that we can improve on. These include muscle strength ratios, strength characteristics of the hamstrings and player endurance1.

Are there different types of Hamstring injuries?
The location of the tear can have a significant impact on the recovery process, especially the time and rehabilitation required to get back on the field.

When considering the location of a muscle tear it is important to appreciate the whole unit. The whole unit includes the bony attachments (both ends), the tendons (a flexible cord on either end of the muscle that transmits the force of the muscle contraction to the bones) and the muscle belly - the power generator. There is also an important transition of muscle to tendon towards either end. These different locations all heal at different rates and sometimes require different rehabilitation strategies.

The extent of the tear arguably will have an impact on the recovery process. Studies looking at imaging results have not consistently shown a clear correlation between the findings on scans like an MRI and the time to return to sport (RTS). Having said that, one can respect that a more substantial sized tear would require longer to repair the damaged tissue, but there are a number of factors that weigh in when considering returning to sport.

If you have been injured, a physiotherapist at Bodywise Health will be able to assess your hamstring and determine what type of injury you have or if further investigations are required.

What can be done to prevent an injury?
This is the most important section. If you have never had a hamstring injury before you want to be proactive in reducing your risk. If you have been unfortunate enough to have sustained an injury previously, you should be working hard to reduce your other risk factors.

There have been many studies looking at reducing the risk of injury. And the great news is there are many things that can be done to reduce your risk.

Your training program should include anaerobic interval training, sports specific training drills and lengthening exercises. Stretching especially while the muscle is fatigued, has also been shown to reduce injury risk. So a proper cool down is important2!

There are also specific exercises that have been shown to reduce the risk of a hamstring injury.

What can be done if I am injured?
Just as was seen in the preventative efforts, lengthening exercises have been shown to have a faster RTS time3. Additionally, agility and trunk strengthening offered slightly quicker RTS and lower re-injury rates, when compared to just strengthening/stretching3.

It was noted that more frequent stretching can still improve the range of movement faster, as well as allowing a faster RTS, suggesting that a home exercise program conducted frequently will be helpful. NSAIDs were not found to be helpful for recovery, PRP injections were also found not to offer benefit in RTS times3.

Sports focused exercises were also found to reduce the number of hamstring injuries sustained by AFL players4.

Unfortunately many of even the elite clubs are failing to adopt the 'evidence based' hamstring injury prevention measures. One study looking at elite soccer clubs in Europe had as many as 83.3% of clubs not following guidelines5.

So if you play a sport that involves running or kicking, get ahead of the competition and see a Bodywise Health Physiotherapist for an assessment and a preventative program. If you've sustained a hamstring injury either recently or a while ago, reduce the risk of re-injury by getting a preventive program.

For a complimentary injury assessment and advice, please call Bodywise Health on 1 300 BODYWISE (263 994).

Until next time stay Bodywise,

Michael Hall
Director Bodywise Health

References
1. T. Pizzari, Risk factors for hamstring injury: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 19, Supplement, December 2015, Page e9, ISSN 1440-2440, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2015.12.401
(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1440244015006465)

2. Verrall GM, Slavotinek JP, Barnes PG The effect of sports specific training on reducing the incidence of hamstring injuries in professional Australian Rules football players British Journal of Sports Medicine 2005;39:363-368.

3. Pas HI, Reurink G, Tol JL, et al Efficacy of rehabilitation (lengthening) exercises, platelet-rich plasma injections, and other conservative interventions in acute hamstring injuries: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2015;49:1197-1205.

4. Proske, U., Morgan, D., Brockett, C. and Percival, P. (2004), IDENTIFYING ATHLETES AT RISK OF HAMSTRING STRAINS AND HOW TO PROTECT THEM. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 31: 546-550. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1681.2004.04028.x

5. Bahr R, Thorborg K, Ekstrand J Evidence-based hamstring injury prevention is not adopted by the majority of Champions League or Norwegian Premier League football teams: the Nordic Hamstring survey Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 20 May 2015. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-094826

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