Contrary to popular sideline belief it is not possible to ‘walk off’ broken fingers over the course of a seventy minute match. Nor is a player’s knee ‘gone’ anywhere if he falls to the ground in a heap. The old favourite, however, of ‘there was no such thing as a hamstring in my day’ could actually have a grain of truth to it! To understand why, we need to know a little more about the hamstring muscles.
The hamstring muscle group consists of three muscles located at the back of the thigh. They are called semimembranosis and semitendinosis on the inside and biceps femoris on the outside. The hamstrings are some of the longest muscles in the body and they are unusual in that they cross both the hip and the knee joints. This makes them especially vulnerable to injury as they have to help control the position of both joints.
Hamstring tears can originate in various parts of the muscle and differ in severity. There are three grades of hamstring tears. Grade 1 is usually a mild strain with a small proportion of muscle fibres damaged. Recovery can range from a few days to about 4 weeks depending on the individual, the treatment received and the type of sport played. Grade 2 strains are associated with a more marked, instant pain causing an immediate cessation of activity. People often feel a pop or a feeling like they have been shot in the back of the leg. There is considerable bleeding if the strain is in the middle of the muscle and this can be seen as bruising which may appear a few days later. These strains take usually 4-6 weeks to heal fully. Grade 3 strains are quite rare. They are associated with sudden movements and are complete tears of the muscle. These require surgical reattachment and rehab can take up to 6 months. Hamstring muscle injury is one that is very prone to recurrence if not managed correctly so it is vital to have it looked after properly the first time it occurs, or ideally to prevent it occurring at all.
There are many factors that can make somebody vulnerable to hamstring injury. Poor general flexibility, especially in the lower back and hips can contribute to cause hamstring injury. A very common cause of injury is a difference in the strength of one hamstring compared to the other or an imbalance in hamstring strength relative to quads strength on one side. People who do a lot of quads work in the gym and who neglect to strengthen their hamstrings are much more likely to sustain a hamstring tear. Poor warm up, fatigue or nerve tightness resulting from lower back problems also increase the chances of sustaining a tear.
Modern day living and work practices have people sitting and driving much more than they did years ago. This puts the hamstring muscles in a shortened position and if kept in that position for hours on end the muscles will adapt to this position. Then when the player gets out of the car, rushes the warm up because he’s late and doesn’t bother stretching, a hamstring tear sooner rather than later is inevitable.
Measures to prevent hamstring injury are proven to be very effective and should be incorporated into training sessions. These include stretching, backwards running, lunging, step-ups and single leg dead lifts. These functional exercises are far better to prevent injury than sitting on a hamstring curl machine as all the muscles can work in pattern as opposed to being strengthened individually and in a way that doesn’t transfer to the pitch.
People years ago spent far more of their time cycling, walking and doing physical work so their hamstrings were naturally strong. Anyone who spent a few days in the bog can attest to the work the hamstrings and gleuts are put through! So when someone says that there was no such thing as a hamstring in their day, they were probably right!
For further information on hamstring injury prevention strategies contact the chartered physiotherapists at Sportsplus Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Clinic, Quintin’s Way, Nenagh, 067-42837.