A hamstring injury occurs when you strain or pull one of your hamstring muscles — the group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh.
You may be more likely to get a hamstring injury if you play soccer, basketball, football, tennis or a similar sport that involves sprinting with sudden stops and starts. Hamstring injury can occur in runners and in dancers as well.
Self-care measures such as rest, ice and over-the-counter pain medications are often all you need to relieve the pain and swelling associated with a hamstring injury. Rarely, surgery may be needed to repair a hamstring muscle or tendon.
A hamstring injury typically causes a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh. You might also feel a "popping" or tearing sensation. Swelling and tenderness usually develop within a few hours. You may also experience bruising or discoloration along the back of your leg, as well as muscle weakness or an inability to put weight on your injured leg.
Mild hamstring strains can be treated at home. But you should see a doctor if you can't bear any weight on your injured leg or if you can't walk more than four steps without significant pain.
The hamstring muscles are a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh from your hip to just below your knee. These muscles make it possible to extend your leg straight behind your body and to bend your knee. When any one of these muscles stretches beyond its limit during physical activity, injury can result.
Hamstring injury risk factors include:
Returning to strenuous activities before your hamstring muscles are completely healed might cause an injury recurrence.
As part of an overall physical conditioning program, regular stretching and strengthening exercises can help minimize your risk of hamstring injury. Try to be in shape to play your sport; don't play your sport to get in shape.
If you have a physically demanding occupation, regular conditioning can help prevent injuries. Ask your doctor about appropriate conditioning exercises.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check for swelling and points of tenderness along the back of your thigh. The location and intensity of your pain can help determine the extent and nature of the damage.
Your doctor might also move your injured leg into a variety of positions to help pinpoint which muscle has been injured and if you also have any ligament or tendon damage.
In severe hamstring injuries, the muscle can tear or even detach from where it's connected to the pelvis or shinbone. Sometimes, a small piece of bone is pulled away (avulsion fracture) from the main bone when this detachment occurs. X-rays can check for avulsion fractures, while ultrasound and MRIs can visualize tears in your muscles and tendons.
The initial goal of treatment is to reduce pain and swelling. To accomplish this, your doctor may recommend that you do the following:
After the initial pain and swelling of a hamstring injury subside, your doctor or a physical therapist can show you how to perform specific exercises designed to improve flexibility and strengthen your hamstring muscles.
If your muscle has pulled free from where it's connected to your pelvis or shinbone, orthopedic surgeons can reattach it. Severe muscle tears also can be repaired.
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine, such as someone in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery.
You may want to write a list that includes:
Your doctor probably will ask some of the following questions:
© 1998-2021 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved.