Hamstring Injuries

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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Hamstring injury facts

  • Hamstrings are tendons of the muscles of the back of the thigh.
  • Hamstring muscles bend the knee and straighten the hip.
  • Hamstring muscle injury is a common athletic injury.
  • Most hamstring muscle and tendon injuries heal without surgery.
  • The risk of hamstring injury can be reduced with a regular stretching program and exercises.

What are the hamstrings?

The hamstrings are the tendons that attach the large muscles at the back of the thigh to bone. The hamstring muscles are the large muscles that pull on these tendons. It has become common in layman's terminology (and by some medical personnel) to refer to the long muscles at the back of the thigh as the "hamstrings" or "hamstring muscles." Academic anatomists refer to them as the posterior thigh muscles, and more specifically as the semimembranosus, the semitendinosus, and the biceps femoris muscles. These muscles span the thigh, crossing both the hip and the knee. They originate or begin at just below the buttocks, arising from the bone on which we sit (the ischium). They connect by means of their tendons onto the upper parts of the lower leg bones (the tibia and the fibula).

The origin of the word hamstring comes from the old English hamm, meaning thigh. String refers to the characteristic appearance and feel of the tendons just above the back of the knee. Although the tendons are sometimes involved in injuries, this article will refer to the "hamstrings" as the large muscle group at the back of the thigh because the most frequent problems involve this muscle group.

What is the function of the hamstrings?

The hamstring muscles actively bend (flex) the knee. They also act to straighten or (extend) the hip (as in the motion of moving the thigh backward). Surprisingly, these large muscles are not very active with normal walking or standing. However, they are extremely important in power activities such as running, jumping, and climbing. Thus, sedentary individuals can get by with quite weak or deconditioned hamstrings, whereas athletes and very physically active individuals absolutely depend on healthy, well-conditioned hamstrings.

The power advantages of strong hamstrings have been known for a long time. In times past, a sword-wielding knight would disable an opponent by a slice across the back of the thigh. Cruel masters were known to have severed the hamstrings of domestic slaves or prisoners in order to make escape less likely. The origin of the term hamstrung, meaning to have been crippled or held back, is derived from these practices.

Picture of the hamstrings
Picture of the hamstring muscles
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/20/2015
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