When most of us think of sports injuries, knee or shoulder injuries are probably the first things that come to mind. And while injuries in both these areas certainly aren’t rare, they aren’t the most common. That distinction belongs to the hamstrings, the three large muscles located in the back of your thigh. Most hamstring injuries involve sprains, but sometimes, a tear can occur, either in the muscle of one of the connecting tendons.
You have three hamstring muscles, each of which runs from the bottom of your pelvis to just below your knee. These muscles join with the hamstring tendons, tough connective “bands” that attach the muscles to your leg bone. Your hamstring muscles help you bend and straighten your knee, and they also provide your legs with a lot of strength and stability.
Most hamstring injuries are caused by muscle overload. Probably the main reason why these injuries occur so often is because the muscles are used in so many sports. Soccer, baseball, basketball and football players all rely on their thigh muscles for running, pushing, sprinting and pivoting movements, any of which can cause a hamstring injury. Runners and dancers are also at greater risk of injuring their thigh muscles. Even non-athletes use their thigh muscles for activities like walking and climbing stairs.
What are the symptoms of a hamstring injury?
Hamstring injuries can be pretty painful, and often the first symptom is a sharp pain in the back of your thigh. In more serious injuries, you might hear or feel a “popping” or tearing sensation. A few hours after the injury, the area will be tender and sometimes swollen. Depending on the type of injury, you might develop bruises in the area, and you might feel weak or unsteady when you try to put weight on the leg.
Hamstring tear symptoms are typically much more painful and serious compared with strains. Hamstring tears aren’t going to heal on their own. They need medical treatment and sometimes surgery to repair the torn tissue. Early hamstring tear diagnosis is important for ensuring the injury doesn’t get worse.
What is a proximal hamstring tear?
While some tears affect only the muscle tissue, other tears occur where the muscle joins a tendon. You might hear these tears referred to as “proximal” tears or “distal” tears, depending on where the tear occurs. A proximal hamstring tear occurs near the pelvis. These tears are far more common than distal tears, which occur at the other “end” of the muscle near your shinbone.
Sometimes a tendon tears away from the bone. This type of hamstring tendon tear is called an avulsion. When the tendon tear is very severe, it can rip away a piece of the bone.
Hamstring strain vs hamstring tendon tear: When to see the doctor
Some mild hamstring injuries can heal on their own with a little home care. For swelling and inflammation, rest and regular application of ice are often helpful in less serious injuries. Over-the-counter medicines can be used to relieve mild pain during hamstring strain recovery. However, if your symptoms don’t go away after a day or so, or if you’re having trouble putting weight on your leg, it’s a sign that your injury is more serious than a simple hamstring strain. Hamstring injuries can be serious, affecting even simple movements. Scheduling an evaluation with Dr. Van Thiel is essential for making sure your muscles and tendons heal properly.
During a hamstring tendon tear evaluation, Dr. Van Thiel uses a variety of methods to pinpoint the location of the injury and determine its severity. In addition to a manual exam of your leg, you might have X-rays or other imaging, especially if a hamstring tendon tear is suspected.
What treatment options are available for a hamstring strain or tear?
Hamstring strain treatment usually consists of rest, ice and medication to relieve the initial pain and swelling. Once your thigh is on the mend, you might have physical therapy to help restore strength and flexibility. Therapy is also useful for preventing future injuries, especially in athletes or in those who’ve had similar injuries in the past.
Hamstring tear treatment depends on the severity of the tear. In complete tendon tears or tears that take away part of the bone, surgery is needed to repair the area and prevent future disability. Dr. Van Thiel uses the most advanced techniques to repair and restore torn hamstrings, helping patients get back to the activities they love.
Athletes may have the lion’s share of hamstring strains and tears, but they’re not the only people who can have a hamstring injury. Hamstring strains and tears are also more common among people who:
- have had prior hamstring injuries
- have stiff, inflexible leg muscles
- have intense activity after a period of being sedentary
- have a muscle imbalance in their legs
- have weak leg muscles
Regardless of how your thigh was injured, the most important thing you can do is have your symptoms evaluated as early as possible. Don’t try to diagnose hamstring symptoms on your own. Prompt medical attention is essential for preventing the injury from getting worse. To schedule an office visit with Dr. Van Thiel, call OrthoIllinois at (779) 774-1110 today.