With the 2012 NFL pre-season in full swing, there is one things you can count on:  Hamstring injuries.  Anytime you combine highly competitive and dehydrated  athletes who sprint for a living, soft tissue injuries such as hamstring strains and groin strains are a realistic result.

A torn hamstring is a common injury for athletes at all levels of sports.  We joke in the NFL that the “big guys in the trenches”, the offensive and defensive linemen, are too slow to pull a hamstring but they too are vulnerable.  Even the non-athletic person is prone to hamstring tears with slips and falls during activities of daily living.

Recovering from a torn hamstring is no joke and it can prove to be one of the most frustrating injuries to overcome.  I can help make your hamstring recovery fast and successful with sports medicine techniques commonly used in the NFL.

The Anatomy

The hamstrings are 3 muscles on the backside of the thigh.  They start at the lower back pelvis and upper thigh bone (femur) just below the butt muscles to just below the back of the knee.  Two of them swing around the inside of the knee just below the inner knee joint line while the other hamstring muscle anchors to the outside of the lower leg just above the calf muscle.

The function of the “hammy’s” is complex depending upon the position of the lower leg and the combination of the muscles asked to assist the activities.  In an effort to keep it simple, lets just think of the hamstrings as having two main functions: Knee flexion and helping with hip extension.

The Injury

Hamstring strains can take place from the origin, the palpable bone just below the butt cheek, to below the knee and anywhere in between.  The most common site is in the belly of the muscle themselves about 1/3 of the way down the back of the thigh.

Athletes will report feeling a “grab”, “stab” or “pop” in one location.  Due to the important role of the hamstring with running, fast running and changing directions are the most common activities to tear a hamstring.  Over-stretching the hamstrings with a fall or forceful hip flexion are also common mechanism of injuries.

A hamstring injury takes place when some of the muscle fibers are torn, resulting in bleeding into the muscle(s).  The function of each muscle fiber is to contract and shorten the muscle over the hip and/or knee joint.  When the muscle fibers, similar to very small rubber bands, are damaged it can involve as few as a dozen fibers to as many as a few thousands.  Muscle strains are graded from 1 (minor) to 3 (severe) depending upon the size of the muscle defect and the resulting limitations.

The Cure
Overcoming a torn hamstring is difficult and often frustrating for an athlete.  I have a simple tip that will both improve the symptoms of a hamstring strain and reduce the recovery time by 50%!  I learned this trick the hard way while rehabilitating elite athletes in the NFL for 24 years.  It may sound way too simple but trust me if you want to cut your downtime in half to return to the sports and activities you love.

The #1 Tip for Accelerated Recovery for a Hamstring Tear:   Avoid all hamstring muscle stretching for 72 hours after the hamstring injury.

I know what you’re thinking: “That’s not going to help.” With the disruption of X number of hamstring muscle fibers, acidic blood flows into the surrounding tissue. Besides the mechanical disruption of the muscle(s), the acidic blood and inflammation in the area of the muscle significantly impairs both the healing process and the function of the muscle. It has been my experience that stretching an acute torn hamstring will increase the bleeding, disrupts the initial healing process and increases the neurological protective splinting of the hamstring more than any other muscle in the human body.

The Result
I often tell my athletes as soon as they injure their hamstring to resist the strong urge they will experience to stretch the hammy’s to “just loosen it up.” By avoiding all stretching of the acutely strained hamstring for 3 days, the muscle(s) can properly form the necessary scar tissue and remove much of the waste products from the initial injury. Early stretching will disrupt the scar tissue, increase the bleeding and slow the healing process.

Obvious there is much more that needs to be done to properly recovery from a torn hamstring besides not stretching during the first 72 hours. Aggressive icing, compression, massage therapy, strengthening and promoting lymphatic drainage should all be implemented into a successful hamstring strain treatment protocol.  As noted in the first paragraph of this article, proper hydration is an important link to both preventing and overcoming all soft tissue injuries.