Hamstring pain or injury happens to many athletes during their career. Our office seems to have an abundance of them once running season is in full swing and tempo training starts or when people begin to start pushing their races and runs. Unfortunately, hamstring pain/strain if left alone will not go away. Simply stopping running will not fix the problem. You need to address the issue of why your hamstring hurts in the first place.
Many people just say to me, "Well I increased my speed or I did more hills so I tweaked my hamstring. It will be fine, it will go away." If this is the case and that was 'normal', wouldn't your other hamstring hurt as well? It did the same race, the same hills, the same speed, yet it feels good. That is because there is no underlying problem that needs to be addressed with the other hamstring.
Why do hamstring strains occur? Because there are a lot of causes to a hamstring injury, it is important when you feel pain to address it immediately so you can find out exactly why it is occurring. Here are some possible causes:
Weakness in hamstrings. Most people have significantly stronger quadriceps muscles (the muscles in the front of the leg) than they do hamstrings (the muscles in the back of the leg). This muscle imbalance can cause the weaker muscle to overwork and become strained. That is why it is important for runners to be on a strength training program. Some examples of strength training programs for runners can be seen on Total Performance Physical Therapy's youtube channel.
Running mechanics. We see a lot of hamstring injuries in people who run and strike with their heel. You are setting your hamstring up for constant injury when you are doing this. While many people can run and be a heel striker and not ever have hamstring pain, the majority do because you are causing the hamstring to work too hard. This overuse and overwork allows the muscle to be set up for injury. If you are a heel striker and you have hamstring pain, it is not as simple as buying a pair of Newtons and becoming a midfoot striker. If you choose to change your running form because of consistent hamstring injury then you should have a running analysis done and have a plan in place on how that is to occur.
Dysfunction of the pelvic and hip bones. One of the other reasons that you could have hamstring pain is there could be something going on with the actual bones of the hip and pelvis. Many causes in our lives, child birth, sedentary job, stepping down wrong off of a curb, and so on, can lead to dysfunction of the pelvic and hip bones. The good news is that most of these issues are fixable if you consult the right medical professional, usually a physical therapist that is familiar with treating runners.
Keep in mind that taking a few days off of running and then going back to it, does not solve the problem. It will calm down the inflammation but it will not fix the problem. You may be able to go back out and run pain free for a while but eventually it comes back and even more painful this time so it is crucial to seek care when it happens so you can identify the source of the problem.
How can you manage the pain? When you start to feel pain in your hamstrings, there are certain do's and don'ts to treating the pain.
Don't stretch the hamstring. There are many sites on the Internet that will tell you to stretch the hamstring regardless of pain. When you feel pain in your hamstring, then you have injured it in some way causing a micro tear. Stretching it, especially through pain will only cause the tear to become aggravated. Incorporating a hamstring stretch into your routine should be one of the last things you do and should not be done until the pain has been resolved and the source of the pain determined.
Do stretches that concentrate on the muscles around the hip. The video below goes over types of stretches that should be done immediately after hamstring pain. Loosening up the hip will allow for better function of the hip and pelvis and therefore decrease stress on the hamstring.
I have said this previously in my articles that concentrating on incorporating stretches into daily routines is much preferred over carving out ten minutes in your day just to do these exercises. Most people start off making the time, but then life takes over and the ten minutes get eaten up with other things that need to be done. These stretches in the video can be done while you are doing other things. For example you can do the stretch to the groin while you are standing at the stove cooking or brushing your teeth. Making this part of an activity that you already do will allow you to be able to continue this stretch in the long term.
The bottom line is hamstring injuries can become a nasty, repetitive injury if the cause is not discovered and addressed. Making excuses as to why it is there and then taking time off of running is not the answer. You want to stop the pain in its tracks so that you stay on track with your training.
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