Most running-related injuries take time to develop. But there are a few that can develop without warning. And anyone unlucky enough to pull their hamstring can confirm this. Let’s discuss pulled hamstring recovery and what it entails.
Whereas repetitive motion causes most running-related injuries, athletes usually injure their hamstrings with explosive motion. Jumping, sprinting, and bursting into a run can all pull a runner’s hamstring. Athletes can also pull their hamstrings with slower motions. However, these motions require extreme stretching that runners aren’t likely to do. Luckily, the RICE method is an easy and effective treatment. First, an athlete must ensure the hamstring is not torn. From there, the road to a full pulled hamstring recovery should be short and smooth.
What is the Hamstring?
Hamstrings are tendons that connect a person’s large thigh muscle to the bone. Sitting or standing don’t really engage the hamstring. These tendons come into play when a person jumps, climbs, or breaks into a run. These motions cause most hamstring injuries by stretching the muscle or tendon beyond its limit. Once someone has injured their hamstring, they’re likely to keep injuring it. This will be especially troublesome for track runners and sprinters.
Identifying a Pull Vs a Tear
Doctors rate hamstring injuries on a scale of 1 to 3. Pulled hamstrings are Grade 1. Partially torn hamstrings are Grade 2. And completely torn hamstrings are Grade 3. Athletes can treat Grade 1 injuries at home, though a doctor’s diagnosis is ideal. Grades 2 and 3 require a doctor’s intervention and Grade 3 may require surgery. So athletes must ensure the injury is only Grade 1 before they start treatment.
Bruises are the easiest way to tell a Grade 1 and Grade 2 hamstring injury apart. A pulled hamstring will not leave a bruise. Torn hamstrings, whether partial or full, will create bruises on the back fo the athlete’s leg. These bruises appear on the back of an athlete’s thigh. They may be as small as a half-dollar coin or as large as a person’s hand. Athletes with hamstring injuries and bruises on their thighs should seek a doctor’s help. If there is no bruise, the injury can be treated at home.
Reduced leg strength is another difference between Grade 1 and Grade 2 injuries. Pulled hamstrings (Grade 1) will not reduce a runner’s leg strength. Torn hamstrings (Grades 2 and 3) will. Runners with reduced leg strength or bruised thighs should seek a doctor’s help immediately. Left untreated, torn hamstrings can cause permanent issues.
Pulled Hamstring Symptoms
Pulled hamstrings don’t present many symptoms. Like most running injuries, they make themselves known with odd aches and pains. Unlike most running injuries, pulled hamstrings won’t affect the knees or feet. Symptoms will develop in a person’s thigh. These symptoms include a constant ache or soreness and a possible burning sensation after runs. Some athletes also report that their thighs feel tender to the touch.
It is important to note that a pulled hamstring will not reduce the strength of a runner’s leg. Runners with reduced leg strength must assume they have a torn tendon. This is true whether or not a bruise is present. Athletes with torn tendons should see a doctor immediately. A doctor will ensure that the injury doesn’t need surgery and will prescribe proper treatment.
Pulled Hamstring Treatment
There is no shortcut for a pulled hamstring recovery. Athletes can only apply the RICE method and give themselves a few days to recover. Severe cases may require athletes to use crutches until the injury has healed. Most cases just need some time to rest and a little extra attention.
How to Apply the RICE Method
Pulled hamstrings take a few days to a week to heal. Some runners may try to go on “easy” runs while they heal. This will only make the injury last longer. In some cases, it may push the injury from Grade 1 to Grade 2. The best treatment is to let the injury completely rest. Athletes can return to their runs when they are pain-free without pain killers.
Sports injuries tend to swell. Cold packs or ice are ideal ways to reduce this swelling. Runners should apply cold packs two to three times a day for twenty minutes at a time. It is important to note that ice should always be wrapped up. Never apply ice directly to the skin.
Compression sleeves and wraps are fantastic for runners with pulled hamstrings. These products deal with the injury on two fronts. They help keep the muscle closer to the bone which reduces strain on the tendon. They also restrict some blood flow to the area. This helps keep to reduce swelling around the injury. Some runners may choose to use their compression gear once the injury has healed. There is currently no evidence that compression sleeves can prevent hamstring injury relapses. On the other hand, there is no evidence that they increase the risk of injury either. Ultimately it is the runner’s decision.
Some athletes may find that elevation helps reduce the swelling in their thigh. This, in turn, can help reduce pain and tenderness around the injury. The leg doesn’t need to be elevated very much. Most doctors recommend elevating the leg slightly above hip level if the patient is sitting or above their heart if they are laying down.
As long as an athlete rests their leg and addresses the swelling, pulled hamstrings should heal quickly. Relapses are hard to avoid and will require athletes to pay attention to any muscle pain or tenderness.