Hamstring Strains

By: Ehren Allen, DPT, COMT

Hamstring strains are common in lots of sports. But there are ways to help prevent them. It comes down to preparation and training. It's not just about stretching.  

What are the Hamstrings?

The Hamstrings are a group of muscles in the back on the thigh. They attach the to the Ischial tuberosity (butt bone or Sits bone) in the pelvis. They run down the back of the thigh and attach just past the knee.

diagram of hamstrings muscles wiith labelled biceps femoris, semitendinosis and semimembranosisHamstring muscle diagram

The Hamstring muscles help to bend the knee and extend the hip.  They work together with the Quadriceps in the front of the the thigh and the hip muscles to control movements of the knee and hip.

What is a Hamstring Strain?

A Hamstring Strain is a tear or rupture of part of the Hamstring muscle group or one of their tendons. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones. There are 3 levels or grades of Hamstring Strain (See Diagram).

Anatomical diagram of the 3 grades of hamstring strains

The most severe type of Hamstring injury is an Avulsion. An Avulsion injury is when the tendon that attaches the Hamstrings pulls away or separates from the bone. 

How Do You Strain the Hamstrings?

Hamstring Strains happen with a quick direction change or an unexpected eccentric load on the muscle. An eccentric load is force that is applied as the muscle is lengthening or releasing its contraction. 

Controlling the lengthening of a muscle helps to make movements smooth. But an unexpected load or force during the controlled muscle contraction release can cause damage or failure of the muscle or tendon.

What Does a Hamstring Strain Feel Like?

A Hamstring strain causes pain in the back of the thigh. It can feel like a pulling or tearing sensation. If some cases, it may feel like hit in the back of the thigh. 

Sometimes, there is an audible "pop" sound when a Hamstring Strain or tear happens. 

Female runner on the beach with a hamstring strain reaching for the back of the right thigh.Hamstring Strains

How Do You Know If Your Hamstring is Strained?

Symptoms of Hamstring Strains can range from mild to severe. Mild strains can cause pain and swelling around the area of the injury. Bruising may also occur.

In severe injuries there may be weakness or an inability to bend the knee or tolerate walking.

Pain in the back of the thigh is not always from the Hamstrings.  It can also come from Sciatica.

Can You Walk with a Hamstring Strain?

You can usually walk with mild hamstrings strains but you may have a limp or pain with walking.  If you are unable to walk, the injury may be severe and you need to see a physician or orthopedic surgeon quickly.

Hamstring Strain Recovery Time

The recovery time for a Hamstring Strain depends on the severity of the injury. It can range anywhere from a week or two all the way to a year. 

  • Grade 1 - Utilize the RICE Protocol for a few days with gradual gentle movement for a week or 2. Slowly return to activity as tolerated.
  • Grade 2 - Similar to Grade 1 but may take a couple of months to heal. Physical therapy is usually needed with these strains.
  • Grade 3 - These injuries may require orthopedic surgery and may take 6 months to a year for full recovery. Physical therapy is needed after surgery.

How Do You Prevent a Hamstring Strain? 

Reducing the risk of Hamstring Strains requires training. This includes:

  • Eccentric strength training  
  • Flexibility training
  • Muscle balance training

Eccentric Strength training involves exercises that control the release of the hamstring contraction.  An example would be slowly lowering the weight with a hamstring curl or slow lowering into a squat position.Image of an athlete lying prone on hamstring curl machine with label and arrows to show the hamstrings

Flexibility training involves making sure the muscles are pliable so that they can adapt to changes in length and position. This includes:

Man on the floor using a foam roller on the left hamstrings

Balancing Muscle strength involves having strength balanced evenly between both legs and between the Hamstrings and Quadriceps. A comprehensive strength program is best to make sure that muscles are balanced and strong. Squats are a great exercise for balancing muscle strength. Proper position is vital for muscle balance and safety.

Image of man doing squat from the side with labels and arrows to show maintain back curve, head up position, and knees behind the toes

Click to Learn Proper Squat Technique.

Related Links:

If you have a Hamstring Strain or any other injury, the Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute can help! To schedule an appointment with a JOI Orthopedic Doctor, call (904)JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below.  If you would like to see a JOI Rehab Therapist at 1 of our 12 locations, call (904)858-7045.

image of Ehren Allen DPT COMT content writerEhren Allen - Medical Content Writer

Skip to content