FS magazine's Thomas Theodore explains what to do if you feel your hamstring twang.
When I was four, I was bitten on the back of my leg by a dog. I’d been at school about a week and was still wearing summer shorts. It’s one of my earliest memories – I’ll never forget the pain. When I was 17, I was sprinting down the wing at rugby, and suddenly I shot straight up in the air. It was almost the exact same pain I’d felt 13 years earlier.
Anyone who’s torn their hamstring will know the feeling.
Hamstring refers to the group of muscles that run down the rear of your thigh. They’re activated when sprinting and engaging in strenuous physical movements.
Hamstring tears are categorised into three grades: Grade 1 is the most minor, and is usually referred to as a “pull”; grade 2 is more serious, and it involves a physical rip of the muscle; and grade 3 is the worst, which is the one that feels like someone as come along with a pair of scissors and cut the muscles in half.
Recovery is obviously dependent on the severity of the tear, but all three will sideline you from sport for some time. It could be just a few days, or it could be months and months of discomfort. The other frustrating thing is that once you’ve incurred hamstring damage, it’s prone to recurrence, and can have you missing chunks of your sports season. The way you treat and rehabilitate a hamstring injury has serious effects on the long-term consequences.
For a grade 1 or 2 tear, RICE is the immediate treatment. Get off the pitch, strap an icepack to your leg and prop it in the air. There will probably be some bruising too, so the ice, combined with anti-inflammatory gel, can help to reduce that.
If you visit your doctor, they might refer to you a physio, who’ll have flashy equipment and can use ultrasound treatment to reduce the pain and help get you back on the pitch quicker. Professional football clubs give their players ultrasound treatment multiple times in a day which is why a player can return from a hamstring tear in just a couple of weeks.
Alternatively, the physio might decide to give a deep-tissue massage, which seeks to oxygenate the area and realign the grains of the hamstring.
Once the pain has relented, you can look to strengthen your hamstrings and glutes in the gym to help avoid a repeat injury. The glutes share a lot of workload done by the hamstring, so solely rehabbing the hamstring is sometimes not enough to prevent further injury.
Next time, remember to warm up and stretch properly before you do sports too. Not just static, toe-touching stretches, but leg swings too, and lunges will help activate your hamstrings and prepare them for strenuous exercise.
And if you’re still suffering, then be like Ryan Giggs and consider yoga or pilates. It works for him but your body might be different. Check out his advice on page 16.
Here are some products to help your hamstrings
Can lengthen out the hamstring
Kills the pain
Deep Heat Muscle Massage Roll-on Lotion