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Patient education: Hamstring injury (The Basics)

Patient education: Hamstring injury (The Basics)

What is a hamstring injury? — The hamstrings are the muscles in the back of the thigh. A hamstring injury happens when 1 of these muscles gets stretched too much or too quickly, or works too hard. This sometimes makes the muscle tear.

A hamstring injury also happens when a tendon in the back of the thigh stretches too much or tears. Tendons are strong bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones.

Hamstring injuries happen most often when people are running or exercising.

What are the symptoms of a hamstring injury? — A hamstring injury causes sudden pain in the back of the thigh. Sometimes, people feel a "pop" when the injury happens. The injury can also cause warmth or bruising in the back of the thigh.

Will I need tests? — Probably not. Your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have a hamstring injury by learning about your symptoms and doing an exam.

But some people need tests. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor or nurse might order an imaging test such as an ultrasound or MRI scan. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

How is a hamstring injury treated? — A hamstring injury usually gets better by itself, but it can take weeks to months to heal completely. Healing time depends on a person's age, how healthy they are, and how serious the injury is.

To help with your symptoms, you can:

Avoid doing activities or exercises that cause pain (until your symptoms improve) – In the meantime, you can continue to do other exercises and activities, as long as they don't cause pain or make your injury worse.

Prop the affected leg up on pillows or a chair when you rest – This is helpful only for the first few days after an injury.

Ice the injury – Put a cold gel pack, bag of ice, or bag of frozen vegetables on the area every 1 to 2 hours, for 15 minutes each time. Put a thin towel between the ice (or other cold object) and your skin. Use the ice (or other cold object) for at least 6 hours after the injury. Some people find it helpful to ice up to 2 days after an injury.

Wrap your thigh muscles with an elastic bandage, other type of wrap, or fabric "sleeve" (picture 1) – This helps support your muscle.

Take a pain-relieving medicine – If you have a lot of pain or a severe hamstring injury, your doctor will prescribe a strong pain medicine. If your hamstring injury is not severe, you can take an over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (sample brand names: Advil, Motrin).

After your pain gets better, you can gently stretch and exercise your hamstring muscles. Stretches and exercises can help strengthen your muscles and keep them from getting too stiff. Your doctor or nurse will show you which stretches and exercises to do. Or they will have you work with a physical therapist (exercise expert).

It's important to let your hamstring injury heal before you play sports or do other activities that use the muscles again. If you don't let your muscles heal, you are likely to get another hamstring injury.

Can a hamstring injury be prevented? — To help prevent a hamstring injury, you can:

Warm up your muscles before you exercise. You can do this by walking or doing another light activity.

Do the exercises to strengthen your hamstrings that your doctor or physical therapist shows you. This can help lower the chance that you will get another hamstring injury.

More on this topic

Patient education: Muscle strain (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement (The Basics)

Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
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