4 Best Exercises to Recover from a Pulled Hamstring

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A pulled hamstring can be frustrating. Trying to play golf? Pain. Trying to swim? Pain. Trying to just walk?? Pain.

How can a pulled hamstring muscle even be so annoying? The challenge with hamstring injuries is that these large muscles are fundamental to walking.

While a hamstring strain can be discouraging, you can learn how to treat a pulled hamstring using a few simple exercises – and all from the comfort of your home. 

pulled hamstring is like a rubber band | feel good life

Let’s take a look at rubber bands: stretch them and they get longer, contract them and they get shorter.

But what happens when you take a rubber band and put it in the freezer? It gets stiff. If you then abruptly stretch that cold rubber band it will rip or even tear apart. 

The same is true with our muscles. Our muscles are made up of muscle fibers that stretch and contract.

Usually stretching and contracting happens without pain; however, a muscle fiber can tear if the muscle moves too quickly or isn’t warmed up. Just like the rubber band.

If you are over 50, it’s less likely that you have a pulled hamstring from jumping like Michael Jordan on the basketball court.

No, your hamstring injury woes were likely caused by something more subtle. A hidden terror lurking in the dark, ready to pounce when you least suspect. 

Shockingly enough, sitting is the silent killer for the hamstring muscles of seniors and raccoons alike. 

There are two major reasons the activity of sitting – or should I say inactivity – is like putting that rubber band in the freezer.

old man sitting on chair with pulled hamstring

You aren’t moving when you are sitting.

Ok, that’s sort of obvious but your muscles NEED movement to stay healthy. The more movement the better.

When you sit for long periods of time… the stiffness villain slowly creeps in and sets you up for a pulled hamstring.

Your body weight flattens your hamstring like a penny steamrolled by a locomotive.

Fewer nutrients travel through your hamstring muscles when your weight is squashing them. So get up and move often! 

What Caused Your Pulled Hamstring Muscle in the First Place?

A hamstring strain doesn’t just come from the act of sitting just as the frozen rubber band doesn’t just break because it’s frozen. It comes from moving fibers that are weak, atrophied, and shortened. 

This means that a hamstring strain could occur from standing up too quickly, or an odd twist out of your car, or even while washing the dishes.  

So what have we learned so far? First, why are you even freezing your rubber bands? And second, why would you metaphorically freeze your hamstrings by sitting for long periods of time? That’s just asking for a pulled hamstring and some major hamstring injuries.

Here are three other hamstring health bandits to watch out for to avoid hamstring injuries.

  • Not Warming Up Before Exercising: It’s always good to warm up before a workout so that the muscle fibers are ready to stretch and pull.
  • Tight Quad Muscles: Your quadriceps (thigh muscles) are the peanut butter to the hamstrings’ jelly. They work together to move your leg, but if your quads are tight this can stretch your hamstrings out and cause muscle weakness. And no one wants an unbalanced leg, just like no one wants unbalanced peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
  • Weak Glute Muscles: Glutes and hamstrings work together. If the glutes are weak, hamstrings will try to pick up their slack, and just like you would feel if you had to pick up someone’s slask: this leads to burnout. Burnout and overuse means you are vulnerable to a hamstring injury.

Ready for that hamstring strain treatment plan? Wait for one second speedy Gonzales, it’s important to first survey the wreckage before you put a plan in place. 

We don’t want new hamstring injuries while trying to fix the one you have!

3 Grades of a Hamstring Strain & How To Tell The Difference

A pulled hamstring muscles don’t really “snap” like a rubber band, it tears. Sometimes only a few muscle fibers tear, other times, you may tear so many you wonder if you should push that medical alert button. 

Hamstring strains are painful and it’s important to figure out which grade of your hamstring injury.

Grade 1 Hamstring Injury:

This is a mild tear and should not interfere with walking or life in general. It will likely be uncomfortable but manageable and you may have a bit of bruising and tenderness.

 Grade 2 Hamstring Injury:

This partial tear in the hamstring muscle will likely cause you to limp and experience swelling when walking. This tear can lead to scar tissue and is important to address, don’t ignore your pain!

Grade 3 Hamstring Injury:

This a complete tear of the hamstring muscles. A complete tear will lead to severe pain, scar tissue, and you’ll likely be hobbling on crutches for at least a couple of months.

Significant swelling and bruising and an inability to bend your knee means you should go see your doctor.

Although treating a pulled hamstring takes time, your body can recover. 

In fact, your body revs up its ”hamstring therapy” engine almost immediately and research shows the sooner you treat your hamstring injury, the quicker you’ll be swinging your 5 iron again.

Pulled Hamstring Treatment: 4 At-Home Leg Exercises

First things first, do not stretch yet! After a hamstring injury you may be stiff, remember a strain means some of the muscle fibers have torn.

Stretching a torn muscle fiber is only going to increase the problem, so start with these exercises first! 

The major side effects of stretching too soon: increasing the hamstring injury!

Here are some rehabilitation exercises, remember, if you’re ever in doubt you can reach out to your primary care physician to see about attending physical therapy.

Physical therapy will address your hamstring injuries through a physical examination. Trust me, they see hamstring strains all the time.

Exercise 1: The Rolling Pin Roll Out

I’ll admit, this isn’t actually an exercise but I had to include it because it’s so helpful and will give you some pain relief for your muscle injury.

Instructions:

Grab a rolling pin, then while sitting on your bed or floor bend the knee of the injured leg up enough to reach the hamstring. Use firm pressure and roll the rolling pin against the hamstring.

Use enough pressure to get deep within the hamstring without feeling pain. Do this for 1 minute. Breaking up adhesions is helpful when recovering from muscle injuries.

Exercise 2: The Hamstring Heel Dig

This is a great exercise for strengthening the hamstring muscle and stimulating the healing process. In true “Feel Good Life” fashion, it’s an isometric “no movement” exercise so it strengthens and protects the joints at the same time. 

Instructions:

Press your heel into the bed or floor for 5 seconds. If you feel a spike in pain or cramping, back off. I recommend doing this exercise 10 times with a few seconds rest between each rep. 

Strengthening is critical to recovering from muscle injuries, and especially hamstring injuries.

Exercise 3: Glute Squeeze with Kick

Remember when I mentioned weak glutes are one of the hamstring health bandits? Here’s how to stop that bandit and lock them away for good.

Instructions:

Stand facing a wall, then place your hands on the wall for balance. While keeping the knee straight, lift the injured leg up and behind, typically about 6-8 inches.

The goal is to engage your glutes, not pull your low back. You shouldn’t feel any extension or back bending while doing the movement.

Squeeze the buns while performing the movement and make sure the motion is slow and controlled. Your goal isn’t to get your leg up high, instead, your goal is to perform the movement with control.

Perform an isometric hold for 5 seconds with your leg in the air. Repeat 10 times with a few seconds rest between each set.  

Exercise 4: Single Leg Balance

This will likely be the most difficult of the 4 exercises but is one of the most effective exercises to speed up recovery from a pulled hamstring. 

Instructions:

Stand next to a wall or chair – remember don’t use a chair with wheels, you can never trust them to stay still!

Extend your arms to help you maintain balance, then lift the injured leg until your knee flexed 90 degrees. Try to hold this pose for 15 seconds. 

Repeat 3 times. 

Should I Use a Brace If I Have a Hamstring Strain? 

thigh braces for hamstring strain

Compression braces can be very helpful during the first few weeks of rehabbing hamstring injuries. A brace can help relieve pain, keep the area warm, increase blood flow, and provide gentle stability. 

I thought sitting was bad because the muscle doesn’t move, won’t a compression brace stop movement also?

Unfortunately, part of the healing process includes inflammation, which means you will experience swelling. That swelling and inflammation can also cause pain following hamstring injuries.

A compression brace helps reduce that pesky swelling and allows you to return to exercising faster.

So, while the compression sleeve prevents movement following hamstring injuries the side effects to immobility are outweighed by the benefits of reducing swelling.

When pain begins to resolve, decrease the time you wear the compression device.

You are not a bionic person and your body should rely upon its own muscles for stability, not a device. Too much support and those muscles tend to get lazy and let the device do all the work. 

We do not want weak and lazy hamstrings! 

How Long Does a Pulled Hamstring Take to Heal?

The time it takes for hamstring strains to recover is different for each person, so remember to be patient with your body.

You can speed up the process with the exercises above and tips but don’t return to your old level of physical activity until… 

  1. You can move your injured leg as freely as your uninjured leg.
  2. Your injured leg feels as strong as your uninjured leg.
  3. You feel no pain in your injured leg when you walk.

Staying in Shape After a Pulled Hamstring

“Yay! My hamstring strain is gone and I’m pain-free! Now I can binge watch all 4 seasons of The Crown on Netflix!

You just broke my heart… this is not how we treat our bodies after recovering from hamstring injuries!

Remember the side effects of sitting mean you are more likely to have hamstring injuries!

Once the pain has been exorcised, it’s not time to climb back into that lazy boy – that’s not how we recover from hamstring injuries!

We’re not sitting again! It’s time to protect your body from future hamstring injuries, get moving and take care of your body by strengthening your muscles!

Check out Feel Good Knees for more ways to keep your knees healthy and to stay active! Hamstring injuries may be frustrating, but you have the tools to get you back to doing what you love to do without pain!

Wondering What's Next?

Discover 11 Easy, At-Home “Stretch Exercises” for Stronger, Pain-Free Joints (click below)

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