A hamstring strain is an injury 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.
Hamstring strain is a common sports-related injury.
Posterior Thigh Muscles
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
A hamstring strain can be caused by:
Factors that may increase your chance of getting hamstring strain include:
Symptoms may include:
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Most hamstring strains can be diagnosed with a physical exam. Your doctor may want images of the area if severe damage is suspected. Images may be taken with MRI.
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment depends on the severity of the strain. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on these muscles:
Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.
To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:
Compression can help prevent more swelling. Your doctor may recommend an elastic compression bandage around your thigh. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tight.
Elevation can also help keep swelling down. Keep your leg higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours or so. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.
Rehabilitation with a physical therapist may be required.
Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.
When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.
Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.
If you are diagnosed with a hamstring strain, follow your doctor's instructions.
To reduce the chance that you will strain your hamstrings:
American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor
American College of Sports Medicine
Public Health Agency of Canada
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
Hamstring muscle injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00408 . Updated July 2009. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Hamstring strain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what . Updated February 28, 2013. Accessed April 11, 2013.
Heiderscheit BC, Sherry MA, et al. Hamstring strain injuries: recommendations for diagnosis, rehabilitation, and injury prevention. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther . 2010;40(2):67-81.
Mendiguchia J, Brughelli M. A return-to-sport algorithm for acute hamstring injuries. Phys Ther Sport . 2011;12(1):2-14.
Mendiguchia J, Alentorn-Geli E, Brughelli M. Hamstring strain injuries: are we heading in the right direction? Br J Sports Med . 2012;46(2):81-85.
10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php : Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2010;(6):CD007402.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/17/2014