How do I Treat a Strained Hamstring?

Dan Cavallari

A strained hamstring is treated similarly to other types of muscle strains, though special emphasis is placed on resting and immobilizing the injured leg for several days to weeks to allow for recovery. A strained hamstring, also known as a pulled hamstring, occurs when the muscle is overstretched during physical activity. Small muscle fibers will tear, causing pain and sometimes swelling or bruising. More severe muscle strains may result in a full rupture of the muscle, and such an injury may require surgery to rectify. Most strained hamstring injuries, however, will heal with adequate rest, stretching, and icing.

Hamstring stretches can help increase muscle flexibility.
Hamstring stretches can help increase muscle flexibility.

To treat a strained hamstring, one should use the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Resting the muscle allows the muscle fibers to reattach and heal; ice can help keep swelling to a minimum, which in turn promotes faster healing and less pain; compression can also help keep swelling down, and elevation allows the muscle to relax. A strained hamstring may take anywhere from a day to several weeks to heal fully, and in that time, the injured person should avoid doing any strenuous activity that may risk re-injuring the muscle.

Fatigue, muscle tightness and overuse are all possible causes of hamstring injuries.
Fatigue, muscle tightness and overuse are all possible causes of hamstring injuries.

After the injury has had significant time to heal, one should begin increasing mobility in the muscle by doing light stretching exercises. This helps the muscle become re-accustomed to common movements, and it allows the muscle to stretch in the manner it was able to stretch before the injury. Stretching should be done lightly at first, and as less and less pain or tenderness is felt in the leg, more stretching can be done. Once the muscle has been appropriately stretched, the injured person may begin performing strength building exercises to regain strength lost during recovery.

For more serious injuries, or if the sufferer is a professional athlete, guidance from a professional physical therapist or injury specialist may be in order. Such specialists are able to monitor the injury as well as the injured person's progress, and he or she can recommend the best methods for recovery while avoiding re-injury of the strained hamstring. An injury specialist will also be able to recognize the severity of the injury, and if the muscle is ruptured, a specialist may recommend surgery. Recovery from hamstring surgery will take considerably more time than recovery from a less severe muscle strain, and the injured person can expect the leg to be immobilized for several weeks to several months.

Strained hamstrings are often due to athletic injuries.
Strained hamstrings are often due to athletic injuries.

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