How to Treat a Pulled Hamstring
When talking about hamstrings we refer to the tendons in the back of the thigh along with three large muscles. Just walking around our hamstrings are relatively inactive, but when we run, lunge, jump, or climb they become essential to propelling us and keeping us steady.
A pulled hamstring can range from a mild twinge to a severe pain that immobilises you. Find out how to recover from a pulled hamstring in this article.
Pulled Hamstring Symptoms
A pulled hamstring or hamstring strain is the over-stretching or tearing of the tendons or muscles at the back of the thigh. Hamstring strain affects many athletes, particularly those who use their legs to run, dodge, tackle, and jump like football, rugby, basketball, and hockey.
What does a pulled hamstring feel like? Sudden, intense, or unusual movement in the hamstring can cause the tendons and muscles there to be over-stretched and even torn resulting in sharp pain and sometimes a ‘popping’ sensation when you try to move the area. The pain is likely to continue while the area heals and may come and go depending on your movement.
In addition to the pain you experience from a pulled hamstring, you could also see some swelling or a pulled hamstring bruise.
A pulled hamstring can usually be self-diagnosed with these symptoms but if you experience severe pain or if it doesn’t start to get better you should see your GP, they will examine you and may perform a pulled hamstring test by bending your leg in a certain way and asking you what you feel.
How to Tell if a Hamstring is Torn or Pulled
We often hear people asking how do you know if you pulled a hamstring or is it actually torn? A tear and a strain (or pull) are not the same thing, a strain is when the fibres in the muscle or tendon are over-stretched whereas a tear is an over-stretch that causes the fibres to rip.
Pulling your hamstring and tearing it are both referred to as strains, but not all strains involve tears. In fact, there are three grades by which strains are judged to determine their intensity.
|Grade 1 hamstring strain||Mild. The muscle is pulled but doesn’t tear. Accompanied by mild to moderate pain.|
|Grade 2 hamstring strain||Moderate. The muscle is pulled and partially ripped. Accompanied by moderate pain with difficulty putting lots of weight on the leg.|
|Grade 3 hamstring strain||Severe. The muscle is totally ripped. Accompanied by severe pain and inability to put any weight on the injured leg.|
Pulled Hamstring Treatment
When looking for how to treat a pulled hamstring it’s important to think about how severe the injury is. If it is mild, you can consider how to treat a pulled hamstring muscle at home, but worse, more painful tears may require professional help.
We sometimes hear people asking how to heal a pulled hamstring in 2 days. Unfortunately, there’s no magic trick that will speed up the natural healing process. But you can follow these steps to give your body everything it needs to recover as quickly as it can. Here are some options for what to do for a pulled hamstring.
1. The RICE Method
RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate. It is one of the best ways to deal with musculoskeletal injuries and is a great option immediate solution how to heal a pulled hamstring.
- Rest. Stop physical activity immediately following the injury. Spend as much time as you can off your injured leg and give your body downtime to heal. You could use crutches if you are finding it difficult to get around on your injured leg.
- Ice. Apply a cold compress to the area for up to 20 minutes every two or three hours for the first couple of days after the injury. The cold compress will soothe the area, reduce swelling, and decrease damage in the area.
- Compress. Compress the area by wrapping it firmly in sports tape or an elastic compression bandage. Compressing the area helps to reduce inflammation and painful swelling, helping the area to heal.
- Elevate. Keeping the leg raised up will help to keep swelling down. Lay down and keep your leg higher than the level of your heart using pillows.
Icing a Pulled Hamstring
If a hamstring strain strikes when you’re out playing sports you’re not likely to have access to an ice pack which is why we include an instant ice pack in our sports first aid kit. The pack is activated via endothermic reaction so all you need to do is shake and squeeze the pack to make it cold.
Wrapping a Pulled Hamstring
Once you’ve iced the area to bring down swelling you can wrap it. Make sure the area is clean, dry and free of clothing if possible. Gather everything you need before you start to wrap the area.
- Zinc Oxide tape
Start at the lower section of the hamstring and gently wind the tape around the leg, moving gradually up to the top of the leg so that the area is evenly covered in overlapping tape. You should ensure the tape is firmly wrapped around the leg for a snug fit but not so tight as to cut off circulation which could be dangerous. Check-in with the injured person to make sure the tape is not too tight.
2. OTC Pain Relief
You could use over the counter pain relief medicine such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to support therapy for pulled hamstrings. Check the packet before you use any painkillers to confirm you can take them. Your pharmacist may also be able to recommend a cream or gel that can be applied directly to the area to help soothe it.
If you have your hamstring strain diagnosed by your GP they will be able to advise you on appropriate medication.
After the initial period of rest, it’s important to take some light exercise to help the tendons and muscles strengthen and move around. Your doctor or physiotherapist may recommend a course of activities for the best way to treat a pulled hamstring.
If you’re wondering ‘can I exercise with a pulled hamstring?’ The answer is yes, but you should proceed with caution. Be sure not to dive into exercise that is too intense or excessive as this could contribute to muscle shrinkage or even scar tissue forming. Walking or gentle cycling are good methods for how to help a pulled hamstring through exercise.
Do you keep pulling hamstrings when running? Gentle massage can help to give relief to recurring hamstring strains. Consider speaking to a physiotherapist about managing such a repetitive injury.
Pulled Hamstring Stretches
Pulled hamstring exercises should start off light and gentle. Try to stretch and bend the area without putting any weight on it. After some time carrying out these exercises you could work your way up to putting more weight on the hamstring area.
What exercise can I do with a pulled hamstring?
Here are some pulled hamstring rehab exercises we recommend:
- Lying leg curl
- Hamstring set (heel digs)
- Standing hip extension
- Calf stretch
- Hamstring wall stretch
Pulled Hamstring Recovery
How long does a pulled hamstring take to heal? Pulled hamstring recovery time depends on how severe the injury is and how it has been treated, but also factors such as age, and general health. If you’ve taken time to rest and care for the strain your body will likely recover a lot more quickly.
Grade 1 hamstring strains usually take a few days to heal properly but pulled hamstring healing times for more severe grade 2 and 3 injuries could take weeks or even months.
Continued Professional Development with Sterosport
We believe that hard work goes into providing safety and first aid support to athletes, sports players, coaches, teams, and everyone else involved in sports. From grassroots to elite levels, all sports involve risk so being prepared is essential.
We develop our sports first aid kits to be in line with national governing body requirements and use feedback from industry experts to make our products truly reliable.
But the right kit should be backed up by someone who knows what they’re doing. Read our article on recommended first aid courses for sport to find out where to get the best first aid training and what should be included in any sports first aid kit.
For those who are interested in sports injury rehabilitation CPD, we welcome you to join the Injury Rehab Network (IRN), where we bring together experts, professionals, students, enthusiasts, and everyone in between to network and learn from one another about providing cutting edge sports injury support.
For more guides to treating common sports injuries take a look at the following:
- How to Treat Ankle Sprains
- How to Treat Groin Strains
- Preventing and Treating Shin Splints
- How to Spot and Treat an ACL Tear
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