Tight hammies are common. Hamstring tears, on the other hand - not as much. Yet, injury is higher in those that have tight hamstring muscles.
Hamstring strains occur in about 12-16% of athletes. And unfortunately, about a third of those athletes will re-injure their hamstrings in the first 2 weeks back.
A strain is the stretching or tearing of a muscle. In the case of a hamstring strain, it impacts the 3 hamstring muscles - the semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, or the biceps femoris. These muscles work together to flex the knee and extend the hip - movements that are common in a variety of weightlifting exercises and in walking or running movement patterns.
But, How Does a Hamstring Tear Happen?
Essentially, a hamstring tear occurs when the muscle is stretched past its normal limits. The first sign is a sudden and sharp pain in the back of the thigh. Following this, swelling, bruising, and weakness symptoms may arise. It is often difficult to walk on the leg - especially immediately after the injury has occurred.
A hamstring tear frequently happens when the muscles are overloaded. When you straighten your leg, the hamstring muscle is lengthened. But when you go to press off of the ground, contracting and lengthening occur almost simultaneously. If the load is too much, the hamstrings might become stretched or torn.
Why does this happen?
There are a variety of risk factors that up your chances of this occurring. These include tight hamstring muscles (such as after an intense workout or without adequate rest and stretching), muscle imbalances, a previous hamstring injury, lack of flexibility, and your sport of choice.
If you run or sprint frequently - especially without proper care or rest - you risk overloading the hamstrings and thus, a hamstring injury. Muscle imbalances can happen when the quadriceps, the muscles at the front of the thigh, are better conditioned than the hamstring muscles. This leaves the back of the thigh weak and susceptible to injury. Further, without appropriate stretching you risk a lack of flexibility in the hamstring muscles - again, increasing your chances of injury.
How To Prevent a Hamstring Strain or Tear
Perhaps you’ve already experienced a hamstring injury and are prepared to do whatever it takes to prevent recurrence. Or maybe you’ve noticed you have persistently tight hamstrings and are worried about injury. Whatever the case may be, there are many precautions you can take to prevent a hamstring strain or tear.
Strengthening the legs and hamstrings and ensuring balance in the legs is important. Isolate the hamstring muscles through hamstring curls or other hamstring-specific exercises. Squats and deadlifts activate the hamstrings, but it’s easy to become quad-dominate in these type of exercises - which is why isolation is important.
Further, adequate rest and recovery, especially after a particularly strenuous workout, is critical. Hamstring injuries are often due to overloading the muscles. This can happen when the muscles haven’t been given enough time to recover. Listen to your body. If you feel sore, it’s okay to take a rest day and do light stretching instead. A proper warm-up and cooldown is further an important aspect of your workout routine and injury prevention.
Unsure what type of stretching and strengthening exercises you should be doing to prevent a hamstring injury? We’ve got you covered. Here are 2 exercises you can throw into your regular routine.
The Hamstring Curl
- Lie face up.
- Place your ankles or shins over top of an exercise ball. Keep your legs straight.
- Lift your buttocks up off the ground.
- Bend your knees and pull the exercise ball toward you.
- Straighten your legs and repeat.
- Do 10-12 repetitions for 2-3 sets.
This exercise can also be completed in a standing position with ankle weights or with the use of a resistance band. In standing, you flex your knee - bringing your foot back toward your buttocks. It’s important here to keep your thighs parallel. Don’t allow your knee to jut forward. You, then, slowly lower your leg and repeat for the same amount of repetitions and sets. Make sure to do this one for both legs!
The Hamstring Stretch
- Sit in a chair.
- Scoot to the edge of the chair - but make sure you don’t fall off! You want the back of your thighs off of the chair.
- Extend one leg straight out, planting your heel on the ground.
- Bend forward at the hips. You should feel a gentle stretch in the hamstring muscles. If you don’t, consider propping your foot up on a stool or another chair and try again.
- Hold this position for 20-30 seconds.
- Repeat for your opposite leg. Perform this stretch 2-3 times after your workout. If you have particularly tight hamstrings, consider performing this stretch everyday.
Don’t let a hamstring tear or strain get in the way of your fitness goals. They are preventable. Take the necessary precautions. Avoid injury the best way you know how!