Hamstring strains are the most common injury in running based sports such as AFL and soccer, they are so prevalent that the footy commentators now make calls like “that looks like a 3-4 week hamstring.” Recurrent hamstring injuries can reduce the time spent on the field, incur great cost and can even make a mark on some athlete’s and weekend warriors careers. In elite European soccer, they estimate that each torn hammy costs the club approximately 280,000 euros.
A common myth: Rest is best.
What we hear: “I did my hammy, rested for a few weeks and then went back to play. It felt great to start with, but it happened again.”
What we know: While resting for a few weeks and allowing your hamstring to heal sounds sensible, in fact the hamstring needs to be put through a series of strengthening exercises, and testing before it is ready to return to sport.
To put it simply:
Injured muscles+ Gradual Load= Increased strength
Injured muscles + rest = weaker muscles.
What are the risk factors?
We know the single biggest risk factor for doing a hamstring strain is having a previous hamstring injury.
A few others we will look out for are:
- Exercise load (usually a spike your last week of exercise)
- Weak hamstrings
- Hamstrings : Quads strength ratio.
What can we do to reduce risk?
With hamstring strains, we often have a weaker and shorter hamstring. The best management for these muscle strains must include ‘eccentric hamstring exercise.
These exercises will strengthen AND lengthen your hamstrings.
Some common eccentric exercises are:
- Nordic hamstring curls (knee dominant)
- Razor Curl (hip dominant)
- Romanian Deadlifts (RDL, hip dominant)
These exercises have been shown to be more effective than stretching or other strengthening exercises. In professional sport, eccentric hamstring exercises have been shown to decrease re-injury rates. One study of over 900 Danish soccer players showed that those who did Nordic hamstring exercises in their program had 85% less recurrences than those who didn't.
Pictured: Bjarne our resident Dane – doing the Nordic, Razor and RDL
What if I’m not a Danish soccer player?
Another way to look at the scenario is if 3 people have a hamstring strain, and all of them are trained with Nordic hamstring curls, we will prevent at least 1 future injury.
Am I too late to the party?
Don’t worry if you have left it a while to rehab your hamstring. Studies have shown that strengthening with these types of exercises months or even years after the injury can help increase the strength of the hamstring muscle group which will reduce injury risk.
The off-season is the perfect time to get strong and reduce your injury risk. Starting with high volume of eccentric exercises then reducing the volume during the season can serve as maintenance for the reduced injury risk.
Don’t let your hamstrings let you down. Book in at Southside Physio for a correct diagnosis, treatment and overall management of your hamstring strain.