What is a Hamstring?

Harriette Halepis

The biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus are the three muscles that make up the hamstring. A human's hamstrings rely upon two major joints: the hip and the knee. Without the hip or knee joint, it would be difficult for the hamstrings to function properly. When any one of the muscles within this group becomes strained, all three muscles are affected as a result.

The hamstring connects from the hip to the knee joint on the backside of the leg.
The hamstring connects from the hip to the knee joint on the backside of the leg.

Hamstring injuries are quite common amongst athletes who must run for long periods of time. Runners often experience hamstring pulls, strains, and tears. Symptoms associated with any kind of hamstring injury include sharp pains or tightness within the hamstring area. Generally, these injuries are a result of overstretching or tearing of the muscle fibers. Treatment of a hamstring injury includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications.

Injuries to the hamstring are common in athletes, especially runners, which is why warming up and stretching are important.
Injuries to the hamstring are common in athletes, especially runners, which is why warming up and stretching are important.

Even though injuries to the hamstrings may be common, there are some things that can be done to prevent these injuries. By stretching after any physical activity, warming up properly prior to physical activity, and slowly increasing athletic intensity, hamstring injuries can be largely avoided. Recurring injuries may persist if an original injury is not properly healed.

Hamstring stretches stretch the long group of muscles behind the thighs.
Hamstring stretches stretch the long group of muscles behind the thighs.

Another way to effectively reduce injury to the hamstrings is to perform strengthening exercises. Leg curls, lunges, squats, and dead lifts are all effective ways to increase strength within the hamstrings. These exercises should be performed on a weekly basis by athletes and individuals alike. While athletes tend to suffer many injuries to this particular area, people who are not athletes may fall prey to injured hamstrings as well.

Hamstring tears and strains are common sports injuries that can be slow to heal.
Hamstring tears and strains are common sports injuries that can be slow to heal.

The primary function of the femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles is to allow knee movement. The hamstrings make it possible for a person to bring the heel towards the buttocks, and to move the leg to the backside of the body. Clearly, this portion of the leg is an integral part of daily activity.

Most hamstring injuries are not serious, though this is not always the case. If a person suspects that any muscle within the hamstrings has become torn, stretched, or strained, it is important to seek professional medical attention. Speaking with a physical therapist or medical doctor is the best course of action. Frequently, physical therapists will be able to provide patients with precise exercises that will both strengthen and repair the hamstrings. Following proper treatment, most people will be able to return to sports or daily physical activities within a short amount of time.

Warming up -- such as by walking -- can help prevent hamstring injuries during a workout.
Warming up -- such as by walking -- can help prevent hamstring injuries during a workout.

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Discussion Comments


I have been running and playing sports all of my life and I am very thankful that nothing has ever happened to my hamstrings. When I played sports our coaches were on top of us to stretch before and after we were done with practice and games.

When I began running I never stretched because it seemed I was never running fast enough to do any damage to my hamstrings or other muscles that I used to stretch.

Now I am more inclined to stretch because I found out that not only does stretching help prevent injury but it also is thought to improve fatigue as it increases circulation.

So stretch these "hammies" people!


Our family loves to ski and try to get in a couple trips to the mountains every year. A few weeks before we leave, I try to make sure my legs and hamstring muscles are ready.

Being in good shape before I go means I can ski longer without getting so tired. One year I strained a hamstring when we were skiing, so now I always try to prevent this if possible.

I found the best hamstring treatment is to put either hot or cold packs on it and give it time to heal. I think one of the most important things is not doing too much even though it is starting to feel better.

It only takes one wrong move and you are right back where you started from, and looking at even a longer road to recovery.


Has anyone had the experience of going through hamstring rehabilitation before? Did it take a long time to recover, or were you back on your feet in a few weeks?

I tore my hamstring playing soccer and my doctor has recently put me into hamstring rehab. I am working with a physiotherapist to get my leg back to working like it did before my accident.

My doctor has told me it could take as long as six months before I am back playing sports, but that just seems like way too long to me. I really want my hamstring muscle to get better fast.


Before you work out you should always make sure to do some hamstring exercises so that you don't end up hurting yourself during your workout. The best hamstring stretches in my opinion are the sitting hamstring stretch and the laying hamstring stretch.

At my gym there are actually diagrams on the walls showing you how to properly perform hamstring stretching exercises so that you can limber up your lower body before starting a workout. I find that if I don't take the time to stretch my hamstrings properly I always end up sore and barely able to walk the next day.


Going along with Reggie Jackson's condition I have to wonder if there are tests that can be done in order to determine whether or not someone is likely to sustain a hamstring injury more often than normal. I would think that if there are it would involve things such as how far a person could move their leg and how much stress they could take before they felt a problem would occur. I am just wondering because I could not imagine an x ray would be able show something that could lead someone to suspect that a problem could occur.


@jcraig - I remember watching Jackson play and always noticed that he would hold a little back when he ran. I also remember that when he turned on the jets how fast he could be. I agree with you that people overly criticized his work ethic as he was making sure that he did not get hurt and was able to contribute in the long run as much as he could to the team.

Reggie Jackson was not the only athlete that had problems with their hamstrings and it is common for athletes to sustain torn hamstring or a simple pull resulting in an extended period of sitting out. I have always wondered how much more likely an athlete is to suffer a hamstring injury as opposed to a regular everyday individual.


@titans62 - I totally agree with you. Growing up a Yankees fan I always cheered on Reggie Jackson but there was always one reoccurring problem with him. He consistently pulled his hamstrings.

Considering he is one of the greatest ballplayers ever this always affected my beloved Yankees and there was little that could be done but wait for his hamstrings to heal.

Some of his critics would say that he "dogged it" after some fly balls, but in reality I know he was born with over-developed hamstrings and this made it very easy for him to sustain a pull. Because of his condition he was forced to hold a little back when he ran so not to jeopardize his season and miss an extreme number of games.


I have noticed over the years that a pulled hamstring is a common injury among athletes. I have always thought that athletes pull their hamstring so often because they are constantly running and moving around as opposed to people in everyday life who hardly ever run.

Whenever an athlete pulls or tears their hamstring they are usually out of commission for at least a couple of weeks and maybe even more. This is a rather simple injury that can really affect ones athletic career and really hamper the teams chances.


I found out the hard way what it feels like to have a pulled hamstring. When I begin my exercise routine, I don't always take the time to warm up properly, wondering if it really made that much difference.

One day I found out just how important it is because when I started doing some squats without being warmed up, I pulled a hamstring.

For the next few days as I felt a little bit of pain each time I moved, I was reminded of how important it is to make sure my muscles are warm before I start moving them like that.

Thankfully this healed itself in a few days, but I have never forgot the lesson. Now I always make sure I take those few extra minutes to get warmed up.

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