Strained Your Hamstring? Feel Better with These PT- Approved Tips and Exercises

Learn common causes of a hamstring strain and how to prevent and relieve it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
woman-touching-her-hamstring-in-pain

Strained Your Hamstring? Feel Better with These PT- Approved Tips and Exercises

Learn common causes of a hamstring strain and how to prevent and relieve it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
woman-touching-her-hamstring-in-pain

Strained Your Hamstring? Feel Better with These PT- Approved Tips and Exercises

Learn common causes of a hamstring strain and how to prevent and relieve it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
woman-touching-her-hamstring-in-pain

Strained Your Hamstring? Feel Better with These PT- Approved Tips and Exercises

Learn common causes of a hamstring strain and how to prevent and relieve it, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 17, 2023
woman-touching-her-hamstring-in-pain
Table of Contents

Your hamstrings — the big muscles that start at the bottom of your hip and run down the back of your leg to the bottom of your knees — play an important role in activities involving straightening your knee or extending your legs. You need hamstrings for a lot of movements, including walking, going up and down stairs, and bending over to tie your shoes. If your hamstring is strained, it may feel uncomfortable to perform these activities. You may also experience pain or tenderness with movement. Fortunately, this injury usually heals on its own with time. And the best thing you can do to aid the healing process: Keep moving. If you’re hesitant to move because you’re worried about aggravating your injury more, take heart — there are exercises and stretches you can do safely that promote healing your hamstring strain and strengthening the muscle to prevent future injuries. 

Learn more about what causes a hamstring strain, along with how to prevent and treat it — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kimbrough is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Hamstring Strain? 

A hamstring strain is a “pulled” hamstring muscle. This can happen if you extend or stretch one of your hamstrings to the point that results in a microtear in that muscle. Hamstring strains can vary in severity, ranging from a very small tear to a large one.

It’s easy to confuse a sprain with a strain, but they actually involve different parts of the body. “Sprains involve injuring ligaments that attach two bones together,” says Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “Strains happen when you over-stretch and injure a muscle or tendon.” 

Hamstring Strain: A Hinge Health Perspective

Hamstring strains happen when the hamstring muscle over extends (or over stretches) and tears. And while hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound alarming, your muscles — especially the big muscle groups in your legs — are very resilient and designed to recover from these kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more pain or injury, know this: Movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. The reason: You want your hamstrings to remain flexible and stretched to prevent the muscle tightness that can lead to a hamstring strain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support your healing and strengthen the muscle to help prevent future hamstring injuries.

Symptoms of Hamstring Strain 

Everyone is different, so depending on the degree of your hamstring strain, you may experience varying symptoms. That said, hamstring strains can cause several different symptoms, such as: 

  • Pain in the back of your thigh. With a hamstring strain, you may notice sharp muscle pain, or even feel a popping sound, immediately following an injury. “It starts below your butt and goes down the back of your thigh,” says Dr. Kimbrough.

  • Swelling and bruising. A pulled hamstring muscle usually results in swelling or bruising in the area, due to inflammation in the muscle.

  • Difficulty with movement. When you have a tear in your hamstring, it can be hard (and sometimes painful) to bend or straighten your leg. “People usually have pain when they contract the hamstring muscle, which happens when you bend your knee,” explains Dr. Kimbrough. 

Hamstring Strain: Common Causes

Hamstring strains are fairly common in people who play sports but can happen to anyone. Possible causes of hamstring strain include: 

  • Muscle tightness. Tight muscles are more likely to strain, according to Dr. Kimbrough. That’s why it’s so important to warm up your muscles before you exercise.

  • Going beyond your sweet spot. Always listen to your body. If you just started an exercise routine, doing more activity than your body — in this case, your hamstring — is ready for could increase the likelihood of a hamstring strain. Stronger muscles typically have an easier time coping with the stress (we mean good stress!) of movement.

  • Muscle imbalance. Your quadriceps — the muscles at the front of your thigh — are usually more powerful than your hamstrings. So when you exercise (particularly, jogging or running), your hamstrings may get tired faster than your quads. This may increase the odds of a hamstring strain.

A hamstring strain and the symptoms it causes can sound overwhelming, but in most cases, it’s easily addressed through movement.  

Treatment Options

It’s discouraging to strain your hamstring, or any part of your body. But an injury doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) keep you from your usual routine or doing the activities you love. You can take a few steps to help your hamstring muscles heal:

  • Don’t overdo it. For the first few days post-injury, scale back on movement. While Dr. Kimbrough doesn’t advise complete rest, it’s important not to over-exert yourself so you don’t add inflammation to the injury. After a few days, gradually increase your physical activity. “Always let your symptoms be your guide, and don’t do things that push past an acceptable level of discomfort for you,” says Dr. Kimbrough.

  • Elevate your leg. Prevent swelling in your hamstring by lying down and elevating the hurt leg with pillows above the level of your heart.

  • Compression. An over-the-counter compression wrap or sleeve, commonly sold at drug stores, can also help manage swelling in your hamstrings.

  • Ice. Cold packs reduce swelling, along with reducing pain. If you have a strained hamstring, try applying a cold pack to the painful area for 20-30 minutes, a few times a day. Always cover the cold pack so you don’t apply ice directly to your skin.

  • Exercise. Getting blood pumping to your hamstring area through cardiovascular exercise can help the tissue heal. It’s also a good idea, Dr. Kimbrough says, to focus on PT exercises, like the ones below, that address mobility, strength, and balance. 

Exercises for Hamstring Strain Recovery

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  • Hamstring Curl
  • Mini Squat
  • Prone Banded Hamstring Curl

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Exercise plays a big role in helping your body heal from a hamstring strain. “We want to exercise to get blood flow to the area, which can help reduce swelling, and strengthen the muscles to prevent future injury,” says Dr. Kimbrough. The above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Hamstring Strain Prevention

Hamstring strain usually happens during physical activity, but that doesn’t mean any particular activity is bad or risky. Easy adjustments to your routines can help protect your hamstrings from strain, promoting healthy movement. 

  • Warm up. Stiff muscles are more likely to strain. Always warm up before you start exercising. “I recommend dynamic warm-ups, like walking, lightly jogging, or doing high knees and butt kicks, to help prep muscles for activity and prevent injury,” says Dr. Kimbrough.

  • Stay hydrated. It sounds simple, but making sure you’re drinking enough water before, during, and after activity can help keep your muscles more elastic.

  • Tune in to your body. Sometimes injuries occur when we move beyond our body’s sweet spot. If you’re recovering from an injury or starting an exercise routine for the first time, it’s especially important to follow your body’s cues so that workout is challenging enough without risking injury. 

PT Tip: Move Throughout the Week

If you do most of your physical activity on the weekends and sit at a desk during the week, prioritizing more frequent movement all week long can help prevent strains when you start moving again. “To keep your body flexible and limber, do a few stretches that feel good every few hours when you’re working at a desk,” advises Dr. Kimbrough. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Chu, S. K., & Rho, M. E. (2016). Hamstring Injuries in the Athlete: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Return to Play. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 15(3), 184–190. doi:10.1249/jsr.0000000000000264

  2. Heiderscheit, B. C., Sherry, M. A., Silder, A., Chumanov, E. S., & Thelen, D. G. (2010). Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation, and Injury Prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(2), 67–81. doi:10.2519/jospt.2010.3047

  3. Poudel, B., & Pandey, S. August 8, 2023. Hamstring Injury. PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558936/