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Preventing Hamstring Injuries

Author: Gerry Van Dykehamstring stretches

Chances are if you play sports or are a sports fan; you’ve seen it happen. An athlete sprints to first base, or down the sideline, and pulls up short limping in pain and grabbing at the back of their thigh. Hamstring injuries are a very common sports injury seen in professional athletes as well as the weekend warrior. Unfortunately, if this injury is not properly cared for, it can turn into a chronic problem.

The best way to treat an injury is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Two significant contributing factors to a hamstring injury are:

1. Hamstring to quad (quadricep) strength ratio

2. Flexibility

Athletes and coaches tend to emphasize quad strengthening (which is very important to protect the knee and optimize performance), but may overlook the hamstrings. The hamstrings should fall between 60-70% of the quad strength. To insure sufficient hamstring strength, it is recommended that athletes perform a series of exercises that isolate the hamstrings and are specific to their sport. For example, a football player might incorporate lunges into their workout routine.

Another contributing factor to hamstring injury is a lack of flexibility. This can easily be prevented with a good stretching program. Remember that a muscle stretches best (and most safely) when it is warmed up. Try a low intensity exercise for 10-15 minutes just before stretching to get the most effective results. Also, try “slowing down” your stretches. Spend three minutes stretching your hamstring, ON EACH LEG. Stretches should also be slow and gentle, never forcing and never bouncing. Stretches should also be comfortable and never painful. Don’t forget to also stretch again after the game, as part of your cool down. One great way to stretch the hamstrings is called the “Doorway Stretch”. Lie down on the floor in a doorway and put one leg up on the doorjamb. Your heel should be resting on the wall and your knee should be straight. If you can’t get your knee all the way straight or it is too much of a pull (uncomfortable), scoot your buttocks farther away from the wall until the stretch is comfortable. If you don’t feel enough of a stretch, try scooting closer to the wall, or putting a belt up over your toes an gently pull your toes towards your nose. Hold for 3 minutes, then scoot over to the other side of the doorway and stretch the other leg.

If you have had a hamstring injury in the past or are trying to get over one, it is important to realize that the main problem with recovering from this injury is, returning too soon to play. The potential for reinjury is high if the muscle is not yet healed. The second injury to the hamstring is often more severe than the initial injury.

You may want to consider seeing a physical therapist if you have, or have had, a hamstring injury and are uncertain how to treat it, when to return to your sport or how to prevent it from happening again. If you have never had an injury and would like to keep it that way, you might choose to work with a certified personal trainer who can teach you specific exercises for strengthening and flexibility.