Self-care measures, such as rest and ice, might be all that's needed for an injury to one of the hamstring muscles.
A hamstring injury involves straining or pulling one of the hamstring muscles — the group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh.
Hamstring injuries often occur in people who play sports that involves sprinting with sudden stops and starts. Examples include soccer, basketball, football and tennis. Hamstring injuries can occur in runners and in dancers as well.
Self-care measures such as rest, ice and pain medicine are often all that's needed to relieve the pain and swelling of a hamstring injury. Rarely, surgery is done to repair a hamstring muscle or tendon.
A hamstring injury typically causes a sudden, sharp pain in the back of the thigh. There might also be a "popping" or tearing sensation.
Swelling and tenderness usually develop within a few hours. There might be bruising or a change in skin color along the back of the leg. Some people have muscle weakness or are not able to put weight on the injured leg.
Mild hamstring strains can be treated at home. But see a health care provider if you can't bear weight on the injured leg or if you can't walk more than four steps without a lot of pain.
The hamstring muscles are a group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee. These muscles make it possible to extend the leg back and to bend the knee. Stretching or overloading any one of these muscles beyond its limit can cause injury.
Hamstring injury risk factors include:
Returning to tiring activities before hamstring muscles are completely healed might cause the injury to happen again.
Being in good physical condition and doing regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help lessen the risk of a hamstring injury. Try to be in shape to play your sport. Don't play your sport to get in shape.
If you have a job that's physically demanding, staying in shape can help prevent injuries. Ask your health care provider about good exercises to do regularly.
During the physical exam, a health care provider checks for swelling and tenderness along the back of the thigh. Where the pain is and how bad it is can give good information about the damage.
Moving the injured leg into different positions helps a provider pinpoint which muscle is hurt and whether there is damage to ligaments or tendons.
In severe hamstring injuries, the muscle can tear or even separate from the pelvis or shinbone. When this happens, a small piece of bone can be pulled away from the main bone, known as an avulsion fracture. X-rays can check for avulsion fractures, while ultrasound and MRIs can show tears in the muscles and tendons.
The first goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. A health care provider might suggest the following:
Your health care provider or a physical therapist can show you how to do gentle hamstring stretching and strengthening exercises. After the pain and swelling go down, your provider can show you how to do exercises to build more strength.
Most hamstring injuries that involve partial tearing of the muscles heal over time and with physical therapy. If the muscle has pulled free from the pelvis or shinbone, orthopedic surgeons can reattach it. Severe muscle tears also can be repaired.
To stretch the hamstring muscles, extend one leg out in front. Then lean forward to feel the stretch in the back of the thigh. Repeat with the other leg. Don't bounce.
To care for a minor hamstring injury yourself, try the R.I.C.E. approach:
Pain medicine you can get without a prescription, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), also might help. After a few days, gently begin to use the injured leg. Your leg's ability to support your weight and your ability to move without pain should get better over time.
You might first talk to your own health care provider. You might be referred to a provider who practices sports medicine or does orthopedic surgery.
Make a list that includes:
Your care provider might ask some of the following questions: