A hamstring strain is damage to the muscles in the back of the thigh. These muscles run from above the hip to the knee joint. A strain is a series of small tears in the muscle. The tendon attached to the muscle may also have some damage.
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The damage may happen slowly over time or from an injury. Causes may be:
- Stretching the muscle too fast or too far
- Putting sudden stress on the muscles when they are not ready for the stress
This problem is more common in male athletes. It is also more common in athletes whose sports involve high bursts of speed, such as running, hurdling, jumping, and kicking.
Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Prior hamstring injury
- Not warming up muscles before using them
- Muscles that are too tight or weak
- An imbalance between the hamstring and quadricep muscles
Problems may be:
- Pain in the back of the thigh
- Swelling and bruising in the back of the thigh
- Hamstring tightness or weakness
- Problems moving the leg
- A popping feeling at the time of the injury
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may be asked about the activities that you do. An exam will be done on the leg. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
Images may be taken to find out how much damage there is. This can be done with:
A small strain may heal in a few days. Severe strains may take a few months. Treatment may include:
- Supportive care, such as rest, ice, compression, and elevating the leg
- Crutches to keep weight off of the leg
- Medicine to ease pain and swelling
- Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion
To lower the risk of a hamstring strain:
- Strengthening the muscles in the legs
- Warming up before activity
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Hamstring muscle injuries. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00408. Updated July 2015. Accessed May 12, 2020.
Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/hamstring-strain. Updated April 30, 2018. Accessed May 12, 2020.
Valle X, L Tol J, et al. Hamstring Muscle Injuries, a Rehabilitation Protocol Purpose. Asian J Sports Med. 2015 Dec;6(4):e25411.
Last reviewed February 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 4/9/21