What is a hamstring tear?
The hamstrings are a group of muscles at the back of the thigh. They are sometimes torn when excessive load is placed on the muscle due to a high amount of force. Hamstring strains commonly occur due to a sudden contraction of the hamstring muscles when they are in a position of stretch. Common activities are rapid acceleration whilst running or when a footballer performs a long kick.
How is it diagnosed?
Hamstring strains are graded from grade 1 to 3 and are characterised by the following:
- Grade 1: a small number of fibres are torn resulting in some pain but allowing full function
- Grade 2: a significant number of fibres are torn with moderate loss of function
- Grade 3: all muscle fibres are ruptured resulting in major loss of function
Typically symptoms include a sudden sharp pain or pulling sensation in the back of the thigh during the provocative activity. Aggravating activities may include walking (especially uphill), going up and down stairs, running, jumping, kicking and stretching the hamstring. Your Physiotherapist will be able to grade your hamstring tear based on assessment of the injury. This will help to determine how long it will take to recover and return to sport.
How is it treated?
Your Physiotherapist will assess your hamstring tear, as well as investigate possible reasons for the tear. This can include other biomechanical issues such as muscle imbalances, running or kicking technique, or strength deficits. Anything identified as a potential problem can be treated accordingly. Hamstring rehabilitation can typically take between 4-6 weeks for a grade 2 tear, depending on the sport you are returning to. Sports that are more demanding on the hamstrings sometimes take longer. Rehabilitation of the muscle includes gentle stretching and a progressive strengthening programme. Your Physiotherapist will guide you in return to sport to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Prevention is easier than treatment!
Risk factors for injuring or re-injuring your hamstrings include:
- Lack of warm-up prior to activity
- Poor flexibility
- Reduced strength
- Biomechanical issues such as tight hip flexors or lumbar spine, or restricted ankle mobility
- Increasing age
The physiotherapist can identify any predisposing factors to be addressed to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Adequate strengthening of the hamstrings is essential to reduce the risk of recurrence. One of the most likely causes of re-injury is going back to sport too early – make sure you are not a statistic and seek advice from a Physiotherapist.