Hamstrings and Harry Potter Part 2: Injury Care and Prevention

Last week's post was about the potential reasons for “tight” hamstrings. Armed with that information, let us dive into the second part: hamstring injury care/prevention. I should make a note that I am NOT a doctor, therefore do not use this post to diagnose anything. If you suspect an injury please consult a doctor! Also, this advice should not supersede any licensed therapist’s recommendations. This is just lay-man’s stuff.

Ok, so let’s talk prevention. Hamstring pulls often occur because of a) a previous pull (number 1 reason!) or b) hamstrings are required to do something they can’t handle on their own (like sprinting full tilt with form resembling poop). The latter is like Neville Longbottom in Potions class: imposing demand that produces in disastrous consequences.

So how do we prevent hamstring pulls in the first place? In no particular order:

1. Soft tissue work- stay on top of it, literally, jump on that foam roller and lacrosse ball! Work out the nasty, gunky tissue that tends to form in the adductors (especially near the insertion points on the pelvis and knee joint), hamstrings, calves (specifically the gastronemius since it crosses over the knee joint), and of course, the glutes. If the glutes are gunked up, they’re not going to fire properly or contract with full force thus leaving an increased burden on the hamstrings to extend the hip. For example, if the glutes aren’t firing properly during a sprint, guess who has to extend the hip? Yup, the hamstrings. And as I’ve mentioned before, the hammies are strong hip extensors but they’re woefully under qualified to handle the brunt of it without the neighbors to the north. Gunky muscles = dysfunction = potential injury.

2. Strengthen your glutes- as mentioned above, the hamstrings need help extending the hip. The glutes are MUCH better at doing so and are at a more advantageous position, mechanically, to do so anyway. Check out this diagram:

See how LONG the hamstrings are compared to the glutes? Also note the fibers: hamstrings have long, parallel-to-the-femur (thigh bone) fibers whilst the glutes’ fibers are short and diagonal to the femur. The glutes can produce more force because they’re shorter and can do so with less stress to the fibers. Every hear about anyone tearing their glute? Didn’t think so. Anyway, all that to say, GET YOUR BUTT STRONGER, and you’ll be half way there to hamstring ouchie prevention. (I could also go into activation, teaching your glutes to fire sooner during the movement, but this post will get too long if I do so).

3. Don’t be stupid- don’t jump into do intense exercise without warming up or without working up to it. If you haven’t sprinted in a while, probably not a good idea to go out and do 100 m sprints all out. Use your brain.

There you have it, simple yet rather effective preventive measures.

But what happens if you’ve already pulled it? Couple of methods that we use with our athletes:

1. Don’t be stupid- This is a common one isn’t it? Don’t do anything that irritates the injured hamstring. It’s already pissed off at you, no point in angering it further and prolonging the recovery period. Seriously, if it hurts, don’t do it. We tend to take a very conservative approach with out athletes and we’ll replace any exercise that might hurt it.

2. Soft tissue work- Oh look, this one is back too! It’s almost as if we turned the Time-Turner and are reading the prevention methods.

Be careful with this though. Sometimes the injured tissue should NOT be touched, but this doesn’t mean you can’t work on the surrounding areas. Depending on the severity of the injury, a good ART or massage therapy session might be in order. Gently working on the tissue can aid in the healing process. Perhaps some gentle stretching is in order, but be careful with that too.

3. Rest- Lay off of it. It’s not going to heal if you keep aggravating it. This is often the hardest part of recovery for athletes; they want to jump back in too soon. One day pain-free does NOT mean the hamstring is healed. Sorry. Give it a couple weeks and ease back into your regular activity with pain as you guide.

There you have it. Hamstring injuries are usually not terribly complicated, thus prevention and care should not be either. Honestly, if you follow the given rules, particularly Number 3 on the first list, your hamstrings should be safe!