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Hamstring Strains: Are They Avoidable?

We’ve all heard the devastating news that our favourite team’s best player will miss the next few games due to a hamstring strain, but did you know they are also quite common in the general population, particularly us “semi”-professional athletes. Hamstring strains are one of the most common injuries in sport of all levels. For example, in the last 20 years the AFL has experienced nearly 3000 hamstring injuries resulting in over 7000 games lost. And possibly even more concerning is the chance of re-injury is 20% in that same year.

Hamstring injuries can be broken down into 3 categories or grades:

  1. Overstretching of the muscle without tearing of muscle tendons or fibres.
    Recovery time: Approximately 3 weeks
  2. Partial tear in the muscle.
    Recovery time: Minimum 4-8 weeks
  3. Half or full tear/rupture of the hamstring muscle.
    Recovery time: Approximately 3-6 months and surgical intervention may be required.

Whilst there is the potential for hamstring strains to be a freak occurrence on the field or in life, as there is with any injury, there are a number of actions we can implement to avoid injury, and decrease the odds of re-injury post-strain. The following are the best tips for avoiding hamstring injury and building strong resilient hamstrings:

Stretch:

  • This isn’t just limited to your quick pre-game warm up (although that is very important). Inflexibility through the hamstring muscle is a significant attributing factor to hamstring injury. It is also important to stretch the muscles around the hamstring due to myofascial connections and neural innervation. A lack of flexibility through the posterior chain of the body is very common especially amongst the male population. So if you can’t touch your toes or lift your leg to 90o it may be time to commence a daily stretching program.
    Tip: Team up with a friend (or an Optimum practitioner) and perform PnF or partner stretching. Alternatively, a hamstring strap provides a reasonable substitute

Strengthen:

  • Having strong hamstrings with equal strength bilaterally results a significantly decreased risk of injury. On top of this, strong hamstrings also improve our speed, running/ walking mechanics, power, endurance and overall functional strength. It is important to include strengthening exercises, such as Romanian deadlifts, drinking birds, hip thrusts, bridges and hamstring curls into our weekly exercise routine.
    Tip: For re-building strength post-injury or just building strong, resilient hamstrings it is hard to look past the Nordic Hamstring Curl.

Recovery:

  • Something that gets overlooked in injury prevention is recovery. Overworking an already fatigued muscle can lead to further damage. The best way to do this is by stretching and warming down after exercise, maintaining adequate hydration through fluid intake, refuelling the body with nutritious foods, allowing appropriate recovery after workouts, a good night sleep, and if you are brave enough going for a dip in the ocean in winter.
    Tip: For a speedy recovery a good pair of compression tights can help reduce muscular fatigue and get rid of those dreaded DOMs.

If you believe you need to improve your hamstring strength/flexibility or have a history of injury make sure to address this with your exercise physiologist so we can continue working towards a strong, healthy, injury-free body.

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