Strained hamstrings are frustratingly common and come about quickly, sometimes for no obvious reason. They’re slow to heal, and often leave us to wonder when we’re going to be able to get back to our usual running route or workout routine.
Luckily, there’s a few things you can do to help your body along its natural healing process.
Diagnosing a Hamstring Strain
The first thing you want to do when a suspected hamstring strain occurs is to be sure it’s actually a strain. Many times we assume the best rather than rule out the worst, which can lead to longer recovery and sometimes less than ideal long term performance.
If you experience sudden or sharp pain, a popping sensation or complete loss of sensation, doctors recommend getting an evaluation by a medical professional because you may have what’s known as a third degree tear, which is a severe tear.
While a complete tear and a simple strain may exhibit many of the same symptoms such as swelling or tenderness, popping and weakness should be more of a concern. A minor strain will typically heal within 2-3 weeks when properly treated, so an injury that lingers longer should be a red flag.
Straining your hamstring, like any other muscle, is the result of overextending that muscle, and is one of the most common injuries for any athlete.
Many times this happens as a result of overuse, landing or moving awkwardly, or failing to stretch properly. Starting a workout without doing warm-up exercise or stretching is a sure way to cause a strain, so save yourself the trouble and take a few minutes to get your body ready for your workout.
The Different Degrees of Strains
It’s important to know that strains come in different degrees, and the severity determines how to treat it and how long it will take to recover.
1st Degree Strain
This is your run of the mill strain that many of us have experienced. A hamstring strain of this degree is going to exhibit tenderness, tightness, and possibly some swelling. Because of the swelling, limited mobility is also not uncommon. A 1st degree strain is classified as a mild overstretching of a muscle.
2nd Degree Strain
More serious but not the worst is a strain classified as 2nd degree, where we have what doctors call a moderate over-stretching of the muscle and “some” tearing of muscle fibers.
Again, more serious, but a second degree strain is only minor tearing and you may experience tightness with muscle spasms, inflammation, and limited mobility.
3rd Degree Strain
The most serious strain is a 3rd degree, and is a severe tear or rupture of the muscle or tendon. A hamstring strain in this severity requires a medical professional to treat it, and has the potential to require surgery or a cast to immobilize the injury.
It’s not uncommon to see indentation or deformity in the area as well as bruising. The hamstring muscle can also pull away from the pelvic bone when a severe tear occurs in what’s known as an “avulsion fracture.”
Helping the Healing
So now that we know exactly what a hamstring strain is and the different severities, we can start to talk about the best ways to recover from one and get you back on track.
Thankfully, a hamstring strain is typically a pretty minor injury that can be treated with handily available remedies. Let’s take a look!
As with any injury, the number one thing you want to do immediately is get pressure off the injury as soon as possible.
With a strain, you have a muscle injury, and expanding and contracting those muscles will only further aggravate the hamstring.
Sit back, elevate the injured leg, and turn on a good movie. By elevating your leg closer to or even above the level of your heart, the swelling can be minimized as blood and other inflammatory substances drain out of the area.
So the next time you’re dealing with an injury of any kind, especially a strained hamstring, the first thing to do is get off your feet as soon as possible. It could save you days or even weeks of recovery time.
Once the swelling and initial pain has subsided, after 3-4 days it’s generally okay to begin a light stretching routine.
As the small muscle fiber tears heal, the muscle will come back strong but much tighter than before. Because a strain is an overstretching of the muscle, tight muscles means a muscle is more likely to be strained again.
By stretching lightly we are setting ourselves up to be less likely to re-aggravate the injury during the healing process.
As the injury heals we can begin to increase the stretching to a more expansive level, but if you begin to feel any pain or weakness coming back it’s important to slow back down.
Diet! Who would have thought, but yes, there are things we can eat to help speed up the recovery process.
Food sources or supplements containing turmeric derivatives and coenzyme Q10 can be major assets in helping to soothe pain and inflammation to help make hamstring healing just a little easier.
Additionally, making sure to eat a balanced diet that stays away from high fat and other inflammatory substances and instead focuses on vitamins and minerals can help support your body’s natural healing process.
As we identified above, reduction of inflammation is one of the major goals of recovery. Inflammation in our muscles can sometimes prevent repair cells from being able to do their job quickly and effectively. Putting ice on a new injury reduces inflammation by reducing blood flow to the given area. Reduced blood flow equals reduced inflammation. An added benefit is that ice also reduces pain in the injured area.
Ice can be applied to specific areas for pain and inflammation management but can also be used across the whole body. Whole body cold water immersion has become extremely popular with even non-athletes. The cold water reportedly forces more blood to your extremities once you exit the water aiding in recovery. The CWI (Cold Water Immersion) is also said to have numerous emotional as well as physiological benefits.
Compression is the act of wearing tight-fitting sleeves or other garments typically made of mostly spandex material. You likely see professional athletes often wearing them during games, but these can also be very beneficial to healing.
Increased blood flow of repair cells and nutrients to the injury site are key ingredients to healing a strain quickly.
Many of us get a massage for the stress relief, relaxation, and general physical benefits it provides. However, massages can be beneficial for more than just knots.
Massage has been shown to increase blood and lymph flow to extremities, which can support, and even speed up, the healing process. Massage can also help with the pain, spasms, and cramps that can accompany hamstring strains.
#7: Pain Relief Topicals and Pills
For those of you out there that want a bit more passive approach to pain and inflammation management, there are also a plethora of tools out there for the job. Both topical pain relief gels and creams as well as pills that can help manage the injury may help you recover more quickly.
For pain relief, methyl salicylate is an ingredient you’ll find in many pain management creams. That’s because it takes a two-pronged approach to the issue by offering both a counterirritant and reducing inflammation. Simply applying gels with this ingredient can reduce inflammation and provide the pain relief you’re looking for.
Over the last number of years CBD has been shown to be a holistically beneficial extract. Benefits in soothing tension to supporting emotional wellness are two of the most popular, and the list only keeps growing. Now, a growing number of companies like ASYSTEM are offering CBD in an easy to administer pill form.
CBD works to soothe discomfort by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity. Our body naturally produces endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in our nervous system.
Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce discomfort by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters to take the sharpness off of swelling-heavy injuries like sprains.
Strains can be as frustrating as they are painful, but it isn’t typically anything to panic over. Muscle strains, especially of the hamstring variety, are among the most common injuries for athletes in any sport, and there are many home remedies you can take to overcome it.
The next time you feel that tug on your hamstring, just follow this simple guide to recovery and you’ll be back on your feet in no time. It won’t hurt to take advantage of ASYSTEM’s Radical Relief Pain Relief System, either!