How to Know if You Have Torn a Hamstring

So you’ve torn a hamstring, or at least you’ve been told by your local sports trainer or doctor, or physiotherapist. How do you know if you have torn it? How do you know how bad the tear is? Is it actually a tear, or is it simply a strain that you can continue to complete some form of modified training through? Below, we will help you to accurately diagnose your injury and then show you our top 3 Instinct Exercises for a hamstring injury.

What are the hamstrings?

The hamstrings are a group of muscles that lie on the posterior (back) portion of our thighs and run from our ischial tuberosity (sit bone on our pelvis) to attach just below the knee. The hamstrings are composed of three different muscles: semitendinosis, semimembranosus and biceps femoris. The role of the hamstring is also often understood. When walking or running, the hamstrings are designed to slow down the bend of our knee and allow for shock absorption through the ground, and then to prepare us for our next step or stride.

How do we injure a hamstring?

Like any muscle, a strain or tear (interchangeable terms when diagnosing the severity of a muscle injury) occurs when the tensile force applied to a muscle is greater than the tensile strength available to that muscle. In Laymen’s terms, when too much force is applied to a muscle, particularly when it is stretched, some of the fibres are likely to tear.

When discussing severity of a muscle injury, they can be graded into grades 1, 2 or 3. This refers to the percentage of muscle fibres within a muscle that have torn. Less than 25% of muscle fibres torn would be diagnosed as a grade 1 tear. 100% of torn muscle fibres would mean a complete tear, or rupture of a muscle, and grade 2 is gap between these two.

How to know if you have torn a hamstring:

Some of the classic mechanisms for hamstring tears include: bending forward when running at high speeds (for example to pick up a ball), overextending a kick or simply running at high speeds, particularly when fatigued. You will often feel a sharp pain followed by an inability to run either at all, or at high speeds. To confirm if you have torn a muscle, test yourself with this battery of tests, developed by our Physiotherapists at Instinct:

1. Heel slide:

a. To complete this test, stand up straight and try to drag your heel of your affected leg backwards behind you. This is ideally completed when wearing shoes to allow you to have good grip and friction on the ground.

2. Bridge series – to complete in this order as they increase in difficulty with each movement, therefore placing more stress on the hamstrings.

a. Double leg bridge: Lie on your back with both knees bent to 90°. Lift your bottom up off the floor until your hips and knees form a straight line. If you feel any pain, or weakness, it is likely you have at least a grade 1, but more likely a grade 2 tear or higher. If you can complete this test without pain, proceed onto the next test.

b. Single leg bridge: Start in the same position as the double leg bridge. This time, lift your unaffected leg off the ground. Then, lift your bottom off the floor again but only pushing through the affected leg. If you feel any pain, or weakness, it is likely you have at least a grade 1, but more likely a grade 2 tear or higher. If you can complete this test without pain, proceed onto the next test.

c. Single leg bridge (elevated): Start in the same position as the single leg bridge, but this time rest your calf muscle on a bench or chair so that the leg begins off the floor. Again try and lift your bottom off the floor only weightbearing through the affected leg. If you can complete this

3. Prone knee bend:

a. Lie on your front with both knees out straight. With the help of a partner, bend your unaffected leg to 90°. Ask your partner to hold the leg in that position while you try and bend the knee in towards your bottom. Try and put as much force into it as you comfortably can and ask your partner to only match your force. Use this amount of force as a baseline measure and then complete on your affected leg. Again, if this causes pain, discomfort or cramping, it is likely to indicate some level of strain or tear to the muscles.

If you feel any pain, discomfort or cramping during any of these tests, it would be highly beneficial to see one of our physiotherapists here at Instinct Health. They can then help to establish which specific hamstring is injured, plus use specialised technology to assess how significant your injury is. From there, they can then begin you on some walking, running and strengthening exercises to get you back playing your sport of choice as soon as possible.

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