5 Ways to Treat a Hamstring Strain

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Man grabbing his strained hamstring

Medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Gray, DPT, specialty in physical therapy, on May 20, 2020 – Written by Amanda Eisman

The dreaded hamstring strain: always ill-timed and reluctant to leave you alone, no matter how many treatments you try.

Luckily, hamstring strains are common among athletes and easily treatable (in most cases) if treated correctly.

Unluckily, hamstring strains are quick to return and develop into a chronic injury if there is even the smallest flaw in treating them (such as stretching too soon).

Don’t worry – we won’t let your hamstring strain turn into a chronic injury. Our internationally recognized sports physical therapist, Dr. Scott Gray, shares the top 5 ways to treat hamstring strains.

Follow these tips to get back in the game full-speed and healthier than ever:

#1: Do this, Immediately

If you want the quickest recovery possible, it’s important to start treatment as soon as you feel the strain. It’s usually obvious when the strain occurs: you will feel sudden pain and loss of stability in the hamstring upon starting or stopping a sprint or other movement that stresses the hamstrings.

You should immediately stop your activity. Grab an ice pack and elevate the hamstring as soon as possible.

Some athletes feel the urge to stretch their hamstring right away and regret it. A strain is caused by an overstretching of the muscle, so stretching the strain so soon will only make it worse.

Within the first 72 hours of injury, follow the R.I.C.E. and No HARM protocols, which are as follows:

R.I.C.E.

This protocol stands for “Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.”

Rest the injured area as much as possible. Ice and elevate the hamstring for twenty minutes once an hour. When not icing, compress the area with sports wrap or a compression sleeve.

No HARM

This protocol stands for “No Heat, Alcohol, Running, or Massage.” Doing any of these activities within the first 72 hours of injury can worsen the injury. You may add these activities back in gradually after the 72-hour period, based on how your injury feels.

#2: Massage/Heat

After following the R.I.C.E and No Harm protocols for 72 hours, you can begin to gently massage and apply heat to the hamstring strain.

The massage and heat will increase circulation, soothe stiffness, and send healing nutrients to the injured area through increased blood flow.

The best way to self-massage the hamstring is to sit on a chair with a tennis/lacrosse or similar sized ball under your injured hamstring. Move yourself in a slow, circular motion over the ball so that the ball can break up knots in the injured area.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to adequately massage the trigger point on your own. We recommend seeing a physical therapist who performs manual therapy if you are having trouble finding and massaging the trigger point.

#3: Light Stretching

You should start to gently stretch the strained hamstring once you are able to perform daily activities (such as walking) without feeling pain in the injured area.

Do not perform quick stretches such as leg swings. Instead, ease into a stretch and hold it for about 10 seconds, repeating the stretch three times.

We suggest a light stretch such as a straight-legged hamstring stretch. Stand tall and place the foot of your injured leg on a sturdy object (such as a table) that is above knee but below waist height. Slowly lean forward through the hip and reach for your elevated foot until you feel a light stretch.

woman stretching her hamstring on a bench

#4: Strengthening

Strengthening is key to properly rehabilitating your hamstring strain. Many hamstring strains are caused by weak and unconditioned muscles in the hamstring area.

Always warm up your hamstrings before stretching and strengthening, and do not perform these exercises until you’re able to walk around pain-free.

Eccentric hamstring strengthening exercises target your hamstring muscles and correct muscular imbalances. Some hamstring strains are caused by having much stronger quad muscles than hamstring muscles. Eccentric hamstring exercises, such as hamstring curls on a physio ball, specifically strengthen the hamstrings to diminish the muscular imbalance.

Always start with gentle strengthening exercises and then gradually increase the duration and intensity.

A good strengthening exercise to begin with is to sit on a tall chair so that both feet are lifted off the ground. Cross your injured leg over your non-injured leg. Push your non-injured leg outward while pushing your injured leg inward (so that your injured leg is pushing against resistance). Do three sets of 20.

#5: Visit Sports Physical Therapist

physical therapist treating patient with exercise band

Have you tried treating your strained hamstring for more than a week, with no improvement in the pain or tenderness? The quickest and easiest way to feel relief is to try sports physical therapy.

A sports physical therapist is a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in sports-related injury treatment and prevention. They commonly treat hamstring strains using a variety of safe and effective techniques, such as specialized stretching, strengthening exercises, mobility exercises, and massage.

Sports physical therapists are experts in finding the underlying cause of hamstring strains so that patients can enjoy a lasting and successful treatment.

Athletes who visit physical therapists for hamstring strains often return to sport stronger than ever and are at a reduced risk of reinjury and other types of sports-related injuries.

Ready to Say Goodbye to Your Hamstring Strain? We Can Help!

Are you looking for a safe way to treat your hamstring strain that will heal the strain for good and prevent reinjury?

Our team of expert sports physical therapists at Back in Motion Sport and Spine Physical Therapy can turn your strained hamstring into a strong and pain-free hamstring.

Click here or call 239-223-0484 to make an appointment or inquire about our top-rated physical therapy clinic. We’ll get you back to your favorite activities, pain-free!

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