Whether you are an athlete, a weekend warrior, or simply an active individual, you can thank your multi-tasking hamstrings for your ability to kick, jump, run, sprint, climb and execute sudden stop and start motions like those that are part of playing basketball or football.

The hamstrings are a group of three large muscles (the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris) located in the back of your thigh that attach to the sitting bones (ischium) and stretch across the back of the knees.

These muscles allow your knee to bend by controlling the movement that swings your leg backwards. The hamstrings also work to balance and extend the movement of your hips, and pelvis.  During any athletic motions, there is a simultaneous and intense demand from knees, hips and pelvis that can cause overloading on the hamstrings. That is when injury can occur. Damage can range from pulls, strains to more severe tears that need to be surgically repaired.

Types of Hamstring Injuries

Hamstring injuries are grouped into three categories:

  • (Grade 1) mild strains or minor tears in the muscle, that are painful but do not restrict movement significantly,
  • (Grade 2) a partial tear of the muscle that causes swelling and can limit bending or straightening the knee,
  • (Grade 3) a severe tear or rupture that causes immediate pain, swelling, bruising and prevents the ability to walk or stand. It is possible to feel an indent where the muscle has ruptured.

In general, hamstring injuries are characterized by sudden and severe pain and a snapping or popping sensation that causes pain in the back of the thigh or glutes when attempting to walk, straighten the leg or bend over.

Risk Factors 

The likelihood of hamstring injury is increased if :

  • You have had a previous hamstring injury
  • Your muscles are weak or fatigued
  • You lack muscle flexibility
  • You have not warmed-up before any exercise or activity
  • There is tightness in the quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) which tilts the pelvis forward and tightens the hamstrings
  • There is weakness in the quadriceps or the glutes
  • You are not fully hydrated as this can cause cramping or pulls in the muscles

How Massage Can Speed Healing

Sports massage can help lengthen and relax the muscles, flush toxins out of the tissues and soften muscles to prevent future injury.  It can also help build healthy (aligned) scar tissue, reduce pain, help speed blood flow and nourishment to damaged tissue and can rebalance the hip-pelvis-knee dynamic by restoring normal muscle function.

Sports massage isn’t usually engaged until there is no pain on touching the area. This usually occurs beyond the first 4-5 days of injury. In this acute stage of recovery, RICE protocols are applied (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation).

When massage is initiated, the process begins with warming up the area to help relax the muscles. This is followed by examination of the area to rule out any contraindications for massage. The therapy will use such techniques as gentle massage to reduce swelling and speed healing, lymph drainage massage or gentle Swedish massage to stretch the muscle fibers followed by techniques to soften and mobilize tissues in the injured area.

NOTE: If the pain is severe and movement is significantly restricted, it is recommended that a physician be consulted to rule out any need for surgery to reattach the muscles or tendons that may have been torn or ruptured. This should be done before proceeding with any massage processes.

Besides adhering to warm up and stretching exercises before any activity, prevention of hamstring injury and promotion of healthy tissue maintenance and elasticity of muscles, tendons and ligaments should also include a protocol of regular massage. Following this regimen can help prevent injury and can lessen the possibility of severe injury if it does occur.

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