How To Treat A Pulled Hamstring
Wondering how to treat a pulled hamstring? It seems at one point or other; many have suffered an injury to the hamstring muscle group. While common in athletes, this injury can occur in mild to severe forms in even the most anti-athletic! Depending on the severity of the pulled hamstring, it can take up to six weeks to completely heal. How should the muscle be treated for the quickest recovery? There are a few things that need to be done to get that muscle back in shape.
- Understand the Muscle. The first step to treating any injury is to gain an understanding of the muscle and its function in the body. Hamstrings are the three muscles on the back of the thigh technically known as the Biceps Femoris, the Semimembranosus, and the Semitendinosus. This muscle group functions to flex or bend the knee and to extend the hip joint. Once you know which movements utilize that muscle, you can begin treatment.
- Evaluate the Severity of the Pull or Tear. Hamstring injuries are generally graded with three levels. Those with Level 1 pulled hamstrings will likely have slight swelling in the area, tightness in the back of the thigh, and only minimal discomfort when walking or bending the knee. Level 2 injuries produce more pain, more swelling, slight to moderate limps, and greater difficulty in straightening the leg at the knee. Level 3 injuries are the most severe with noticeable swelling and greater pain during walking or basic knee movements. Severe Level 3 tears may certainly require surgical intervention, but many hamstring injuries respond well to home treatment, exercise therapy and time.
- Time for R.I.C.E. No—it’s not time to enjoy a little Chinese food. It’s time to officially begin treatment. R.I.C.E. stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation and should be started immediately following the injury. Rest the leg as much as possible, using crutches or another support when walking as necessary. Ice the affected area with the standard 20 minutes on/20 minutes off cold therapy approach. If you do not have an ice pack—a bag of frozen vegetables is a great substitute. Additionally, compression with a snug bandage wrap around the thigh and elevation of the leg will reduce swelling and pain in the muscle.
- Medicate to Relieve Pain and Swelling. Over the counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications such as ibuprofen help reduce swelling and pain as you evaluate the pulled hamstring.
- Visit a Physician or Athletic Trainer. Severe pulls or tears may result in serious damage to the muscle and may require surgical repair. If you suspect a more severe hamstring injury, it would be in your best interest to have it evaluated as quickly as possible to prevent additional damage—and a significantly longer recovery time. Do not be surprised if a physician refers you to a sports therapist or recommends physical therapy as part of your treatment plan.
- Muscle Rehab is a Must. Once the initial pain and swelling have subsided—or your physician gives the go ahead for severe pulls—it’s time to begin gentle stretching and strength exercises to rebuild the muscle and help reduce the risk of future injury. Proper stretching of the pulled hamstring should not produce pain—so be sure to stay within your range of motion. As the muscle heals, the range of motion and ability to stretch will increase.
- Gentle Massage Often Works Wonders. Muscle spasms are common symptoms of the injury and will often be relieved with gentle massage. Patients of sports therapists or physical therapists may also receive ultrasound massages to relieve the muscle tightness and twinges.
Once you have recovered from the injury, you will need to take extra care to prevent re-injury as that often occurs. Warming up properly before exercise or strenuous physical activity will go a long way in keeping pulled hamstrings from taking you out of the daily game.