We all know about the dreaded hamstring pull or strain. We fear that feeling of a sharp pain in the back of our thigh as we are running down the field or about to cross the finish line. The recovery can take months and the loss of playing or training time can be priceless. So what can we do about this? Can we actually prevent the invisible sniper from targeting our hamstrings? Good questions, but the answer is not so straightforward.
We know exactly what hamstring injuries are. We know how to treat them once they are torn or strained. But what we still, as a medical community, have yet to nail down is exactly why they occur and what we can do to stop them. We do however have some very good advice. So if you really want to decrease your odds, the best advice out there is a proper warm up!
What should I do for a warm-up?
Our bodies work best when the blood is flowing and the body has some clue on what you are going to require it to do. So before you do any physical activity I would suggest at minimum a five to ten minute warm up. This can include light jogging or riding a stationary bike prior to participating in a run or other light-to-medium activity level event. But if you are going to be participating in a competitive sport, an intense workout or other physically demanding event you need to be performing a dynamic warm up routine that includes several exercises and stretches prior to the actual activity. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, has released a great guide called the “+11” that has been used by soccer clubs around the world for injury prevention and warm ups. You can their Injury Prevention Guide by clicking the link and it is free to download. And just because it was made for the sport of soccer does not mean it will not translate well into other sports or events! I also found this great website article: "Try This Full-Body Dynamic Warm-up to Prep for Any Workout" that has pictures, descriptions, and videos to other dynamic exercises you can use to warm up.
Other than warming up, is there other things that may prevent a hamstring injury?
Yes, anything that places undue stress on your hamstrings will be putting them at risk for a tear or injury. This can come from un-obvious places like your core muscles, ankles, or the way your position your body when doing an activity. For example, if you have a weak core then your hamstrings may be placed under increased stress as they try to stabilize your hips when running. Or, if you have a stiff ankle that does not allow for one of your ankles to go through the full range when doing an activity, your hamstring maybe responding by tightening up. During sporting events or intense activities your body really needs all systems to work together. If one system is not working properly, than other systems will be placed under stress to compensate. This is when injuries occur.
How about stretching?
This can, and probably will, be another whole blog post in itself! To sum it up here, stretching is not all it was once thought to be in terms of a tool to enhance performance or prevent injuries. Recent literature and studies suggest that while stretching is good for improving flexibility it has not shown to reduce the rates of injuries. It was thought that injuries occur when you stress the muscle to the limits of your flexibility and then it tears. However, most injuries to the hamstrings occurs during the normal ranges, and not at the extremes. So should you stretch, yes! But your muscles should be warmed up and you may not want to rely solely on stretching to prevent hamstring injuries as we once did in the past.
So while there is nothing you can do to absolutely prevent hamstrings tears or pulls, there are things that you can do to reduce your odds. Not only will these tips and techniques help prevent hamstrings injuries, it can also reduce your odds of other injuries as well. So warm-up properly and don't let that sniper take aim at your hamstrings!
- Synergy Manual Physical Therapy Team
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