Ok, I’ll stop shouting now, but it’s hard I tell ya! I’ve been limited to doing light upper-body kettlebell exercises over the past couple of weeks whilst I’ve been suffering. No not with the dreaded man flu for a change, but my left leg. It all started around three weeks ago when I was out running in London. Unusually for me, I did a street run and what’s even more unusual is that I forgot to cool down properly by stretching. Mostly because I was distracted by a text message as soon as I’d finished, and also because I was busy washing mud off my trainers so that my friend’s living room didn’t look like the pitch at Wembley! I’ve been researching how to recover from a hamstring injury, and this is what I have discovered so far.
What are hamstrings?
It’s nothing to do with ham nor string for that matter. They are tendons at the back of your thighs that attach the large thigh muscle to the bone. It also refers to the group of muscles around the back of your upper leg that run from your hip to around the knee area. We don’t use them whilst sitting and they’re not used a great deal whilst walking either. They get put to better use during sporting activity such as running or climbing etc.
What is a hamstring injury?
It is a strain or tear to the tendons or large muscles at the back of the thigh. It’s quite common with athletes actually. The three “grades” of injury are:
Grade 1 = A mild muscle strain
Grade 2 = A partial muscle tear
Grade 3 = A complete muscle tear
What causes these injuries?
Stupid people like me who forget to stretch is one answer! Although it can occur through over–stretching too. Mostly it’s down to excessive exercise, sudden movement like lunges (which I had been doing a lot of!) or jumps and sprints etcetera. Doing warm-ups and cool downs can help prevent these kind of injuries.
What is the pain like?
You feel like you need to sit down for a while and let your husband or wife do everything for you. So it’s not such a bad thing! Drama queens will be screaming (but not kicking) and threatening to kill their loved ones over the smallest of things.
On a serious note; it hurts.
A grade 1 may be an occasional throbbing pain around the middle of the leg like it is for me for example. Although this is ‘occasional’, it doesn’t mean it’s not painful because let me tell you… it is!
A grade 2 is obviously more painful and tender. You might even notice some swelling or bruising and be limping regularly. Actually, although I don’t have any swelling or bruising, I am limping around like a 3 legged donkey right now!
A grade 3 is where the pain is the most intense and you’ll struggle to walk unaided. Obviously, it’s important to get urgent help at this stage.
How long does it take to recover from a hamstring injury?
That really depends on the severity of the injury. It could take a few days for a grade 1 up to many months for a grade 3.
So how do I recover from my hamstring injury?
Grade 1’s can generally be fixed up at home by resting the leg as much as possible, although you should definitely see a doctor if the pain is unbearable. If the pain IS unbearable, then you haven’t got a grade 1 anyway! The best way of recovering is using RICE. No, not those tiny grains of rice you’ll boil and stick with a chicken curry. This is an acronym.
Rest Ice Compression Elevation
Rest the leg as much as possible and avoid any kind of physical activity.
Ice works wonders, but do make sure you place it in a tea towel rather than applying directly to the skin. A pack of frozen vegetables are an example of a decent ice pack to use. I asked my other half “do we have any frozen peas?” She said “no but we’ve got tinned peas!” Not quite sure that has the same effect really (*rolls eyes).
Compression is very important. You should reduce the chances of swelling by applying a simple bandage you can obtain from your local pharmacy.
Elevation involves keeping the leg raised, maybe up on a pillow to reduce any swelling.
Regular painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen should help reduce any pain you’re experiencing, but please check with your doctor first to ensure you are able to take these.
When can I exercise again after a hamstring injury?
You will make your injury worse if you return to physical activity too soon. However, avoiding exercise can cause the hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissues may form around the tear itself.
Gentle hamstring stretches are recommended once the pain has disappeared but do take care in case you make the injury worse. You can then return to gentle exercise such as walking, but don’t plan on doing any lunges or marathons for a short while until you are fully recovered.
Feel free to speak to your doctor if you need further advice and have any concerns, as he or she may feel that physiotherapy is necessary. To avoid this however, take on board my advice with regards to gentle stretches and light exercise.