Understanding Your Hamstrings

Understanding Your Hamstrings | Capitol Physical Therapy Orthopedics And Pain Management Washington DC

Getting enough exercise is an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle.

Exercise helps prevent fatigue, helps maintain a healthy weight, and protects you from cardiovascular disease, along with so many other benefits.

However, it can also sometimes lead to injury.

Overdoing it, or not warming up properly, can result in muscle soreness, and sprains and strains.

This is also known as a pulled muscle.

At Capitol Physical Therapy, we provide pain management and injury treatment solutions for pulled muscles.

Our DC area physical therapists can help you understand how to take care of your muscles so that you can continue to live a healthy, active life.

Today we’re going to take a closer look at one of the larger muscles in your body, your hamstrings.

They play a vital role in actions like walking, running, and participating in many sports.

Hamstring injuries can result in having limited mobility and not being able to do these physical activities for some time.

Keep reading to find out more about what and where your hamstrings are, how to prevent hamstring injury, and what to do if you sustain an injury.

What Are Hamstring Muscles?

Your hamstrings are large skeletal muscles located on the back of your legs, starting at your thigh and going into your knee.

The hamstrings are not just one muscle, but actually consist of three separate muscles on each leg.

They’re attached by tendons to your lower leg, pelvis, and knee.

Being skeletal, or voluntary, muscles means that you control how and when you move them (whereas your nervous system controls involuntary muscles).

They help you perform many movements such as climbing stairs, walking, and performing exercises like squats and lunges.

Hamstring muscles are used to bend the knee joint, as well as for extending and rotating the hip joint.

What Happens When You Pull Your Hamstring? (Hamstring Strain)

A pulled hamstring, also known as a strained hamstring, occurs when your muscles are stretched a little too much.

When you pull a muscle it affects one part of the muscle or tendon, as opposed to sprains, which affect the tendons connecting two or more bones.

There are differing levels of severity for hamstring strains.

Grade one strains are generally mild and heal quickly.

Grade two strains involve a partial muscle tear and will require a bit more time to recover.

Grade three strains involve a complete muscle tear and can take months to heal properly.

In extremely severe hamstring injuries, the tendon can tear completely from the bone, and might even pull bone with it.

This is known as an avulsion injury.

How Can You Tell When You Pull Your Hamstring?

If you pull your hamstring, you’ll generally feel a sharp, sudden pain on the back of your thigh.

You might also feel a tearing or popping sensation.

Other symptoms you may experience include:

  • Bruising and discoloration in the back of your leg
  • Swelling
  • Hamstring weakness
  • A lump in the back of your thigh
  • Trouble bearing weight on your leg
  • Being unable to bend your knee

If your symptoms are manageable, you may have a mild hamstring strain, which can usually be treated at home.

However, severe hamstring strains in which you cannot put any weight on your leg or walk without pain, may require further treatment from your primary care provider.

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What Causes A Pulled Hamstring?

The primary cause of a pulled hamstring is muscle overload.

Overload can result from the muscle being stretched past its capacity or from a sudden load being added to it.

Some factors which can increase the risk of experiencing a muscle strain include:

Additionally there are people with certain conditions or who partake in certain activities that have a higher risk of experiencing a pulled hamstring.

Some of these people can include:

  • Dancers
  • Runners
  • People who play sports such as soccer or football
  • Older people who mainly walk for exercise
  • Teenage athletes who are still growing

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How Can Physical Therapy Help?

If you experience a hamstring injury, seeking help from a physical therapist can help ensure that you take the necessary steps to heal properly.

A physical therapist will work with you to design a treatment plan to help you get back to being active.

Let’s take a more detailed look at some of the ways in which physical therapy can help.


A common first aid technique that you can use before you get to your physical therapist is the RICE technique.

RICE stands for: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.

Rest the injured area and be sure to not aggravate it or apply extra pressure.

Ice the area for up to twenty minutes at a time.

Be sure to add a thin layer, such as a cloth, between your skin and the ice to avoid frostbite.

Compress the injury to help limit swelling, but be careful not to cut off blood circulation.

Elevate the injury, which helps to reduce and minimize swelling.

What Are Hamstring Muscles? | Capitol Physical Therapy Orthopedics And Pain Management Washington DC

2. Soft Tissue Mobilization

Your physical therapist can provide soft tissue mobilization, also known as manual therapy.

This involves gentle hands on manipulation of the joints and muscles.

This can be especially beneficial in targeting areas of your body that are hard to treat on your own.

Soft tissue mobilization therapy can help increase muscle strength, range of motion, and flexibility, as well as break up scar tissue.

3. Regaining Strength And Range Of Motion

Exercises can be recommended by your physical therapist to help you regain your strength and range of motion.

Your physical therapist will show you specific strength exercises that target your weak points.

Additionally, despite the fact that your hamstring muscles may feel stiff following an injury, you should allow them to rest and not stretch them too early on.

As your hamstring muscles begin to heal, your physical therapist can begin to show you flexibility exercises to regain your range of motion.

They will also guide you on how to safely perform strength and flexibility exercises in the clinic and at home.

4. Gradually Returning To Previous Activities

As your injury heals, your physical therapist will help you gradually return to your normal physical activities.

A functional training program can help you do this safely.

It will help rebuild your strength for more demanding activities without putting excessive stress on the area that was injured.

It’s a good idea to continue to monitor your previously damaged hamstring to ensure it’s functioning optimally.

Do You Need Surgery For Pulled Hamstrings?

Surgery for pulled hamstrings is not usually required.

In most cases, a pulled hamstring can heal on its own, alongside physical therapy and proper care and rest.

You typically only need surgery for your hamstring in extreme cases.

An example of this would be if your hamstring is completely torn away from your bone, which is known as an avulsion injury.

But this is very rare.

In the extreme case that your hamstring strain injury does need surgery, a physical therapist can provide postoperative rehabilitation to help guide you on your path to recovery.

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How To Take Care Of Your Hamstrings

Even though we’ve gone over how to care for an injured hamstring, the best option is always to take steps to prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.

Some of the ways you can do this include:

  • Maintain strength and flexibility of your hamstring muscles through exercise and stretching
  • Take the time to properly warm up before participating in sports or other exercise and physical activities
  • Allow your body to adapt to a new activity by increasing your intensity and frequency gradually
  • After a workout take time to cool down, stretch, and rest

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Book Your Appointment With Capitol Physical Therapy Today

If you’re dealing with an injury to your hamstring, or any other major muscle, you might need some extra help to aid in your recovery.

A treatment plan consisting of exercises, stretches, soft tissue mobilization, and other techniques, can help prevent a recurring injury and get you back to living an active life.

We’re Capitol Physical Therapy and we can help.

Serving clients in the Washington DC and Marlboro Maryland areas, our physical therapists can provide you with recovery and rehabilitation treatments for any muscle related injuries.

Book your appointment with Capitol Physical Therapy today.

Capitol Physical Therapy
1331 H St NW #200,
Washington, DC 20005

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9560 Pennsylvania Ave. # 202,
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772

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Capitol Physical Therapy offers orthopedic and other pain related solutions, with our versitile team of physical therapists in Washington, DC