Rehabilitation for a Hamstring Injury

An injury to the hamstring muscle, the muscle at the back of the thigh, is an ailment frequently affecting athletes, particularly those who sprint, such as soccer and basketball players, gymnasts, runners and dancers. After first-aid treatment with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), rehabilitation is typically very beneficial. While some mild hamstring injuries heal with minimal care, most patients require physical therapy to gently stretch and strengthen the muscle once the initial pain and swelling have subsided.

A hamstring injury occurs when the muscle is stretched beyond its normal limits. It may happen as the result of a single trauma or develop slowly due to repetitive motion. A hamstring injury may involve a strain, which is a stretching or partial tearing of the muscle, or an avulsion injury, which is a complete tear of the muscle that pulls it away from the bone. The injury, whether mild or severe, is commonly referred to as a "pulled hamstring."

It is important to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible so that the muscle atrophy and the build-up of scar tissue (fibrosis) that result from prolonged immobilization can be prevented. Either condition may interfere with leg function as healing takes place. Rehabilitative measures, designed to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and increase strength and mobility, may include:

  • Electrical stimulation
  • Ultrasound
  • Light massage
  • Range of motion (ROM) exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Isometric exercises

As symptoms improve, patients are encouraged to take steps to prevent a reinjury. For some, this means making lifestyle changes, such as getting rid of excess body weight, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. For all recovering patients, it means taking care to increase exercise levels gradually in an effort not to overtax the hamstring muscle.

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