Hamstring pain – is it a tear, or something else. How to tell.
September 29, 2021
Pain in the back of the thigh can be the result of a hamstring tear, or could be a sign of something else going on. Hamstring tears are most commonly caused by sprinting – usually while decelerating (but can also be during acceleration). However, there are other ways you can tear a hamstring. A muscle tears when too much load is placed on it. Usually at the time of a hamstring injury you will feel pain or a cramping sensation. Sometimes you will also see bruising come up in the days following a hamstring tear, although not always. A simple test to see if your hamstring muscle might be torn, is to sit in a chair with your knees bent and try to drag your foot along the floor underneath the chair. If this is painful, it is likely you have a hamstring tear.
Posterior thigh pain could also be caused by a irritation of one or more of the hamstring tendons. This is often located higher up the thigh, towards the sit bone. However, sometimes this can extend down into the thigh as well. Tendinopathy is related to tendon overload, which is usually something which happens over a period of time, as opposed to a more sudden onset hamstring tear. Overload can be due to a change in activity or an increase in distance, speed or intensity. It could also be a change in equipment – such as new shoes. Pain caused by tendinopathy is usually worse in the morning and warms up with activity, unlike a tear which is likely to worsen with activity.
Another cause of posterior thigh pain could be referral from the lumbar spine (lower back), often referred to as “sciatica”. The joints, discs, nerves and muscles of the lower back can refer pain down into the leg. Pain that is referred is often aggravated by movements of the lower back or tension on the sciatic nerve. These typically are movements like bending forwards, sitting, driving or sitting with legs out straight on the couch. Usually, pain on contraction of the hamstring muscles (such as the drag test mentioned earlier) does not reproduce this type of pain.
These are the main sources of posterior thigh pain but there are other less common causes. If you are unsure of what is causing your pain, or how to manage it, it is recommended that you check in with one of physiotherapists to thoroughly assess and diagnose the source of your pain!
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