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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What causes hamstring injuries, and what are types of hamstring injuries?

Hamstring injuries are muscle strain injuries. Hamstring injuries typically are caused by rapid acceleration activities when running or initiating running activity. Hamstring injuries are common in sports such as soccer, football, and track. Injuries to the hamstring group of muscles can range from a minor strain to a major rupture. A minor strain is classified as a grade I tear, whereas a complete rupture, or tear, is classified as a grade III tear. Grade II tears are partial ruptures. Given the function of these muscles, it should not be surprising that grade III injuries most frequently occur in the athletically active. Severely torn muscle causes impaired function. Grade I injuries tend to be mild in that they tend to heal fully with only minor aggravation to the injured, especially in the sedentary individual. On the other hand, in power athletes, hamstring injuries can be severe and debilitating. Many a promising or successful athletic career has been limited or ended by such injuries. One such memorable image is that of Yankee baseball star Mickey Mantle sprawled in agony at first base, having sustained a massive grade III tear while lunging to beat out a throw. Even common exercises, such as jumping rope, tennis, and elliptical machine walking can lead to injury of the hamstring muscles.

What are risk factors for hamstring injury?

Any activity that is associated with sudden acceleration when initiating or during running can lead to a hamstring injury. Common athletic activities where hamstring injuries occur include track and field events, football, baseball, soccer, and tennis.

What are symptoms and signs of injury to the hamstring muscles?

Hamstring injuries usually occur with sudden lunging, running, or jumping, resulting in muscle injury. The sudden jerking pulls on the tissues of the hamstring muscle. In fact, it is commonly referred to as a "pulled hamstring." Oftentimes, a "pop" is heard or felt by the injured athlete. A variable amount of pain is experienced immediately. The athlete is usually unable to continue and oftentimes cannot even stand.

Examination of the individual with a hamstring injury reveals spasm, tightness, and tenderness. With more severe injury, swelling and a black and blue or bruised appearance will follow. In some cases, a palpable defect (detectable by touching) will be present in the muscle. Tears and strains most often occur at the middle of the back of the thigh where the muscle joins its tendon or at the origin of the hamstring at the base of the buttocks (at the ischium).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/20/2015

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