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Treat a hamstring injury with proper rehabilitation and recovery

Hamstring injuries strike athletes of every type, from runners and skaters to football, soccer and basketball players. The hamstring is a group of three muscles that run along the back of the thigh, enabling you to bend your leg at the knee.

When stretched too far the muscles can start to tear, especially when a lot of sudden stopping and starting is involved in the athletic activity. It happens most commonly when:

  1. You don’t warm up before exercising
  2. The muscles in the front of your thighs are much stronger than your hamstrings
  3. You’re an adolescent going through a growth spurt

If you strain your hamstring while sprinting in full stride, you will notice a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh that will likely cause you to come to a stop. You might even hear a pop.
Symptoms include spasm, tightness, tenderness and, in more severe cases, swelling and bruising. Tears and strains most often occur at the middle of the back of the thigh where the muscle joins the tendon or at the base of the buttocks. Weakness in your hamstring can persist for weeks.


Do seek the help of a professional

It is important that you seek the help of a sports chiropractor, doctor, or physical therapist who can diagnose and recommend a treatment plan. During the physical examination, he or she will check your thigh for tenderness or bruising, palpate the back of your thigh to see if there is pain, weakness, swelling, or a more severe muscle injury. He or she will also check for strength and stability.

Do rest the leg

Avoid putting weight on the leg as best you can. If the pain is severe, you may need crutches until it goes away.

Do ice your leg to reduce pain and swelling

Place a cold pack or ice compress on your leg for 10-20 minutes on and 10-20 minutes off again. Periodic icing two to three times a day can help to control swelling and reduce pain. Continue for at least three days, or until the pain is gone. Heat should not be applied to the area during the first three to four days because this may increase swelling and bleeding within the muscle and make the pain and inflammation last longer.

Do compress your leg

Use a non-adhesive elastic compression bandage or compression stocking around the leg to keep down swelling. If a proper fitting compression sleeve is not available, a wide ACE bandage can work, wrapping from the knee up toward the hip (not too tight). Both are available online or at a pharmacy. If the compressive device causes increased discomfort or "pins and needles" in any part of your leg, it’s probably too tight.

Do elevate your leg as much as possible

Try to elevate your leg above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. While you are lying in bed, use a pillow to prop your leg up. While you are sitting in a chair, use as many pillows as necessary to keep it elevated.


Do not ignore the pain and hope it goes away on its own

Do not sacrifice your long-term athletic ability to make that extra mile or avoid missing a game. Focus on training yourself as a total athlete, always giving yourself adequate resting time. No hamstring injury is just going to go away because you are able to work through the pain. It takes proper treatment and healing time to be back at 100 percent. Plus, playing through the pain could cause further damage.

Do not use google for medical advice

While the Internet is loaded with plenty of good advice, it’s important to seek professional help. Consider the advantages a sports chiropractor can give you by not only relieving your pain, but also treating you as a whole athlete -- and not just your symptoms. A sports chiropractor will work in partnership with you to ensure your optimal health and wellness.

Do not automatically reach for pain pills

They can be dangerous and potentially addictive. Instead, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, like ibuprofen or naproxen, to help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs may have side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only short term, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.

Do not avoid all movement during recovery

Practice light stretching and strengthening exercises if your chiropractor or doctor recommends them. Once you start to recover, strengthening your hamstrings is the best protection against hamstring strain.

Do not too much after your recovery

Doing too much, too soon – or pushing beyond your limits -- can re-injure the hamstring after recovery. Follow the 10 Percent Rule: Limit training increases in volume or distance to no more than ten percent per week.

Jumping cartoon

Hamstring muscle injuries are common and painful. They are especially common in athletes who participate in sports that require sprinting, such as track, soccer and basketball. Others at high risk of experiencing hamstring strain include runners, dancers, older athletes and adolescents. Several factors can make it more likely you will have a muscle strain, including muscle tightness, muscle imbalance, poor conditioning and muscle fatigue. The good news is that by following doctor’s orders and adhering to a few simple remedies, the hamstring injury will respond well.

More expert advice about Injuries

Photo Credits: Stretched by Flickr: nicholas_t; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, D.C., DACBSPChiropractor

Dr. Alan K. Sokoloff, D.C., DACBSP, is team chiropractor for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, ScripHessco strategic partner and owner/clinic director of the Yalich Clinic Performance and Rehabilitation in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where he has practiced...

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