How To Treat A Hamstring Injury With Physical Therapy
A hamstring injury typically refers to either a strain or a tear of connective tissue in the thigh region. The symptoms of a hamstring injury include, but are not limited to:
- Difficulty straightening the knee without pain
- Difficulty walking quickly or taking big steps
- Pain while climbing the stairs or running
- The sudden onset of a sharp pain in the back of the thigh, near the buttocks, or behind the knee
The pain may be mild, moderate, or severe, and the precise location of the injury may also be hard to pinpoint. A hamstring injury may develop abruptly due to an unexpected, rapid movement while walking, running, or performing a strategic maneuver during a sporting event. It may also occur due to the failure to use good posture while moving around, lifting objects, stretching, exercising, or engaging in other activities. Regardless of how the issue develops, any type of injury in the hamstrings is categorized as grade I, II, or III, depending on the extent of the damage.
Grade I means that muscle fibers in the hamstrings were overstretched and microscopic tearing of the connective tissue more than likely occurred. Pain and mobility problems generally develop, but physical signs of the injury (e.g., bruising, swelling) are not observed. A grade II injury means that a muscle or tendon in the hamstring was partially torn and this typically leads to swelling, bruising, and reduced mobility. The most serious type of hamstring injury is a grade III, which is characterized by significantly torn muscle tissue that causes intense pain, inflammation, bruising, and swelling on the back of the thigh, and the loss of mobility. Individuals who believe that a hamstring injury has occurred should speak with a doctor in a timely manner in order to understand which injury grade is present and to begin proper treatment.
Physical Therapy is a Commonly Recommended Approach
Most doctors will refer patients who are suffering from a moderate to severe hamstring injury to a physical therapist. The goal of physical therapy is to demonstrate exercises that enhance the strength of the affected muscle tissue, restore the normal range of motion, improve overall functional mobility, and support a quicker recovery. However, the strategies that are utilized during the treatment sessions are based on the information that is gathered during the initial consultation. This includes gaining a better understanding of the person's medical history and how the injury occurred as well as the types of symptoms that are being experienced. The therapist may also examine the affected region through touch to determine the extent of any possible swelling, bruising, mobility problems, or flexibility issues. In addition, the initial assessment will evaluate whether or not the hamstring injury is disrupting the ability to perform routine tasks and activities (e.g., running, playing sports, lifting). Physical therapists always work with patients to design individualized treatment plans that promote the best outcomes.
After the physical therapist suggests a specific treatment program, a variety of techniques may be performed to promote a successful recovery. One of the main techniques involves massaging the affected region to enhance scar tissue mobility and reduce stiffness. Ultrasound treatment may also be utilized, and entails applying heat to the injured area to boost circulation and reduce stiffness.In addition, electrical stimulation may be used to target pain and swelling, or to improve the way muscles in the hamstrings contract.
Gait training, in which a physical therapist helps an individual learn how to walk properly with an assistive device (e.g., crutches), may also become necessary for some individuals. A physical therapist may even recommend the temporary avoidance of the activity that caused the injury, as continuing to engage in improper movements disrupts the healing process. However, the most beneficial aspect of physical therapy involves the guided exercises that therapists teach their patients.
The following exercises are useful toward addressing a hamstring injury:
- Dynamic and static hamstring stretching exercises. These exercisesimprove hamstring function. It is important to remember that the injured tendon or muscle forms scar tissue during the healing process, and that an optimal way to promote the remodeling of this tissue is through stretching movements. The stretching exercises usually pull or slightly strain the injured area, but the discomfort should subside within minutes of discontinuing the stretch.
- Strengthening exercises for the lower extremities.After a hamstring injury, a physical therapist may recommend strength training exercises for the hamstrings as well as the surrounding muscles. These types of exercises should start out slowly and should be painless. As the injury begins to heal, the intensity of the strength training exercises can gradually be increased.
- Strengthening exercises for the core and hips. Exercises that enhance the strength of the abdominal region as well as the hips may also be recommended during physical therapy as this has been shown to help individuals with a hamstring injury return to their normal activities in a shorter amount of time.
- Agility techniques such as jumping and hopping.As the sessions progress, a therapist may begin to demonstrate more advanced exercises such as carefully executed jumping and hopping. These are guided exercises that, when performed properly, can help protect the hamstrings and allow active individuals to return to the sports they enjoy.
- Proprioception and balance exercises.Another important factor that physical therapist focus on during the sessions is being able to maintain an optimal balance as well as being aware of lower extremity positioning when executing specific movements. Accordingly, these types of exercises ensure that joints such as the knees, hips, and ankles remain in the correct position while the individual is walking, jumping, or running.
A hamstring injury may occur for a number of reasons and although a minor injury may resolve on its own, moderate to severe pain in the hamstrings that persists indicates that it is time to seek professional assistance. Physical therapy is a useful treatment method that involves the use of non-invasive therapeutic techniques that support the body’s ability to heal itself naturally. Furthermore, receiving physical therapy shortly after enduring a hamstring injury reduces the risk of experiencing long-term pain and chronic mobility issues, and it also helps prevent the need for more invasive treatment approaches. Most importantly, it enables individuals to regain their full range of motion and quickly return to their lives.
Get in touch with our team at Hershey Orthopedic & Spine Rehabilitation to schedule a no-obligation discovery appointment and see if physical therapy is the right choice for your condition!