Many of us have heard of, know or have experienced a problem with our hamstring muscle group. Located on the backside of the upper leg, the hamstring group comprises three different muscles – the semimembranosis, semitendinosis and biceps femoris.
This muscle group attaches to the pelvis, crossing behind the hip joint, and runs downward toward the knee to attach on the inside and outside portions of the lower leg, just below the knee joint. Based on its many attachments, the hamstring group influences motions and actions at the hip, knee and back.
Hamstring strains or “pulls” are usually non-contact injuries. Hamstring strains are typically caused by decreased flexibility, decreased strength, muscle fatigue and an inadequate warm-up.
To help prevent future injury or ensure a full recovery following a strain, you should address each of these conditions before injury.
A hamstring strain can occur in a variety of ways. This muscle group is often injured in high-speed activities like running, jumping, pivoting or exploding out of a stance. Since the hamstring crosses multiple joints, it’s involved in motions or affects movement at each of these joints. Although its primary influence centers on the hip and knee joints, the hamstrings can easily impact back alignment and function.
The hamstring muscle group is contracting during many activities in various phases. For example, while running, when the leg is not in contact with the ground, the hamstring acts to slow down or decelerate the lower leg. This movement can lead to injury.
Injury can also occur when the foot contacts the ground. During this phase, the hamstring must control motion at the knee joint while also controlling motion of the trunk to prevent it from bending too far forward. In this action, the muscle is being pulled at both ends, like a rubber band. This action can lead to a muscle strain if the force is too much.
To avoid injuring your hamstring, you need to have a balance of strength and flexibility in the hamstring muscle group. A simple and effective strengthening exercise is a forward lunge.
1. Step forward with involved leg’s foot pointing straight ahead.
2. Maintain alignment of kneecap with second toe.
3. Lower the back knee to a position two inches off the ground.
4. Stand up to regain upright position.
5. Repeat 10 times with each leg leading.
The lunge is great exercise because it trains more than just the hamstrings; it also helps to strengthen the quadriceps and gluteal muscles.
A simple stretch you can do to maintain hamstring flexibility is called the hurdler stretch.
1. Sit on the floor with one leg stretched out in front of you with toes up.
2. Bend other leg and place sole of foot against knee of the straightened leg.
3. Slowly bend forward from hips, keeping your back and head straight.
4. Lean forward to feel a stretch, not pain, behind the knee or thigh.
5. Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat three times on each leg.
While strengthening and stretching activities are important to avoid or recover from a hamstring injury, they’re only part of the entire rehabilitation process. Restoring full range of motion, normalizing walking/running pattern, decreasing pain and improving function of the entire leg are just as important.
If you have more questions about the hamstring muscle group, other sports medicine topics or to schedule a Free Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Health Hotline™ at 414-219-7776 or 800-219-7776.