Anyone with a passing interest in the sporting codes of rugby union, league, netball and football will have heard of hamstring injuries. Here in New Zealand, they receive a mention in most televised games because they’re so frequent. Treating this sort of injury is common at our Hobsonville physio clinics too. But even though hamstrings are famous in NZ, do you actually know what they do and why they’re so important?
The hamstrings are a group of muscles behind the thigh that extend from the knee to the hip. If you’ve seen a rugby player clutching that area after straining their “hammy”, you’ll probably be familiar with where they’re located! The hamstrings help us bend our knee and extend the hip when we walk, so they’re vital in the scheme of things. They also pull the tibia backwards, and in doing so they help to protect the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), the most important stabiliser of the knee.
Our hamstrings help us walk, run and jump, and help to prepare the leg for ground contact during these movements. This is especially important in sports like union, league and netball which all require speed, jumping, sudden changes of direction, and deceleration. Obviously, the stronger the hamstrings are during these movements the less chance there is of injury but as we know, injuries do happen, regardless. A hamstring injury usually happens when tendons or muscles are stretched beyond their limit, and this most often occurs during the sudden and explosive movements we associate with sport. However, they can also happen during slower movements that overstretch your hamstring.
The first steps in treating a hamstring injury focus on reducing pain, swelling and bruising, and then improving flexibility and strength. Some of the more common treatments we employ could include electrotherapy, acupuncture, ice, heat, massage, stretches of the muscles and surrounding nerves, as well as strengthening exercises. These exercises can begin reasonably soon after the injury to help reduce pain and maintain muscle function, while a maintenance program will be put in place upon recovery. This program is essential in helping to minimise the risk of re-injuring the hamstrings.
Just when that recovery will occur is a hard one to answer, even though our patients are often impatient! They want to return to their preferred activity as soon as they can, but like any injury, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. As a ballpark figure, you could be looking at two to four weeks for a simple tear, and two to three months for a more severe tear. Patience and following our treatment programs are key factors in making a good recovery as soon as possible. After all, the biggest risk of re-injury following a hamstring tear is often down to inadequate rehabilitation. We’re determined that won’t happen to you, so for the most comprehensive treatment of your injury, no matter what it is, get in touch and we’ll fix you up without taking shortcuts.