Tips To Prevent Hamstring Injuries
Although hamstring injuries are common in certain sports, anyone can injure this muscle group that runs along the back of the upper leg. We explain how proper warm-ups and hamstring strengthening exercises can help prevent these painful injuries.
Hamstring injuries are democratic, affecting athletes at every level of play—high school competitors, professional players, casual exercisers, and weekend warriors. We provide simple steps to keep your hamstrings strong and reduce injury risks.
Your hamstring is the long, lean length of muscles and tendons running from hip to knee along the back of the thigh. While the quadriceps muscles on the front of the thigh power you forward, the hamstring functions to decelerate leg motion at the end of each stride. When your hamstring muscles are weak, tired, or stressed, they may not have the strength to check the power of the quads. This can cause a pull, partial tear, or complete tear of the hamstring. Injury usually occurs in the middle of the hamstring where the muscle is thickest. More severe injuries tend to happen when the hamstring tears away from the anchoring bones at the top or bottom of the thigh.
The challenge with preventing hamstring injuries is similar to the challenge in preventing knee injuries. Clear prevention protocols exist for both injury types, and data shows that using the protocols does diminish the rate of injuries. In fact, one group of hamstring injury prevention studies showed that a combination of active warm-up and eccentric hamstring strengthening exercise could prevent as many as two-thirds of hamstring injuries. However, preventative protocols can’t work unless schools, teams, and individuals incorporate them into their athletic programs.
Preventative studies support the use of active warm-ups along with exercises that target hamstrings. However, many athletic programs continue to use static stretching—even though static stretching has been shown not to diminish injury risks, and can even cause muscle weakness. Active warm-up programs begin with a slow jog and then short sprints or drills to warm up the muscles, establish blood flow, and prepare muscles to work. Some research even shows that short sprints for a few minutes might be just as effective as a longer warm-up period.
The eccentric exercises used to target and strengthen hamstrings work because they incorporate movements that cause the hamstring to stretch or extend while it’s contracting, mimicking the condition when the hamstring is most vulnerable and building strength in that moment of stress. Eccentric exercises simultaneously lengthen and contract a muscle group—in contrast to exercises that ask the muscle to bunch and shorten while contracting.
Generally, eccentric contractions also cause more force to move through the muscle, so it is important to allow adequate muscle healing time between exercise sessions, and to begin a program of eccentric exercise gradually. Done properly, these exercises strengthen muscles more quickly than concentric exercises, and research suggests that they may also improve coordination between brain and muscles.
Protecting your hamstring, especially as an athlete, is a matter of practicing prevention consistently with an active warm-up and stretches designed to protect and strengthen the hamstring muscle group. Making these preventative warm-ups and stretches part of your exercise routine will minimize your risk of being sidelined by a hamstring injury.
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