Hamstring strains are an incredibly common injury in running sports, due to the fact that they tend to happen during sprinting. Remember back when I mentioned the importance of dynamic stretching and how we often use our muscles as they are on stretch?? (If not, read it here YOGA FLOW) Well, this is why hamstrings tend to tear. As we are stretching our hamstring out and at the same time contracting it (say when we are sprinting/kicking a ball) we can sometimes overwork our muscle to the point where it fails (and tears). Tears vary to a large degree and your recovery timeframe and treatment may differ depending on the extent of your injury. However, REGARDLESS of the extent of your injury, please DO NOT just leave it in the hopes that it will get better. Why...?
What Happens When We Tear Our Muscles
Our muscles consist of hundreds to thousands of muscle fibres. Imagine them all lined up like train tracks. When we tear a few of these train tracks, rather than lining up neatly again they attach to whatever they are closest to. This results in a mish-mash of fibres that aren't working in their most optimal position. i.e a weak spot in your hamstring.
HOWEVER, your body thinks it has healed as those fibres are attached to something, so pain levels decrease and you think you are fine to get out the footy again. WRONG. You end up tearing your hamstring again. And then again. Everytime you re-tear, the tear gets bigger and bigger and the scar tissue (mish-mash) builds up more and more, resulting in weakness and recurrent hamstring injuries.
So, How Can You Prevent A Healing Tear Worsening?
FULL RANGE Once you have achieved full range of pain-free motion, you can't stop there.
BASIC STRENGTH You have to strengthen the muscle properly. Do this by starting with basic hamstring strength exercises such as hamstring curls and bridging and even core exercises - it's all connected!
FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH If you play in a team sport - start a progressive running program 48hrs post injury. This should be directed by your physio and usually involves running ~20mins daily (or twice a day for high level) starting with small strides initially. Do interval running over 100m involving acceleration, maintenance and deceleration phases. This must be completely pain free. Any sensation of pulling or pain and the session must cease immediately.
*Obviously, the time, distance and speed you run will be modified depending on your level of fitness/running ability. If you don't normally run, then strength training should be adapted to make it functional for you and your sport.
How Do I Know If I'm Ready To Return To Sport?
Before returning to sport, make sure you can check off all of the following:
Completion of progressive running program
Full range of motion of hamstring
Full strength of hamstring/ pain-free maximal contraction
Completion of functional tests e.g sprinting from a standing start, abrupt changes of pace during run, side stepping.
Successful completion of a full week of maximal training.
For the swiftest recovery, make sure you see your physiotherapist as soon as you feel any sort of pain that you suspect may be a tear. The sooner you treat it, the sooner you'll be back to your sport, activity and life. The smarter you treat it (physiotherapy!), the more peace of mind you will have that it won't become a recurrent injury.
If you have a pain, injury or simply a question - give us a call on (08) 9448 2994, or book an appointment online here!