A pulled hamstring muscle can be painful and often prevents you from enjoying your favorite activities like a round of golf or an evening walk with the hubby. Learn how you can treat a hamstring strain using a few simple exercises from the comfort of home.
Written by: Coach Todd
Your muscles are kind of like rubber bands. You stretch them, they get longer. Contract them, they get shorter. But what happens when you stretch a rubber band that is old and ragged, one that looks like the cracked and hardened desert floor of Death Valley National Park? Ssssnap! Ouch! Bye, bye rubber band. Could a pulled hamstring be the same? Yes!
The hamstring muscle is the back part of your thigh and lifts your leg up when you walk, climb the stairs or step out of the car. You wouldn’t want to live without it.
But whatcha gonna do when a pulled hamstring comes for you?
If you are over 50, it’s highly unlikely that you received your hamstring strain from punting a ball like Pele on the soccer field or jumping like Jordan on the basketball court. No, your hamstring woes were likely caused by something more subtle. A hidden terror lurking in the dark, ready to pounce when you least suspect.
Let’s play Jeopardy for a sec…
“Senior Activities for 500, Alex.” (RIP you amazing game show host).
“The number one activity that causes muscle problems in people across the globe.”
“Hmmmm….Oh got it!”
“What is sitting, Alex”.
Yay!! You got it!
Yes, Sitting is the Silent Killer for the Hamstring Muscles of Seniors (and Racoons Alike).
There are two major reasons the activity, or should I say inactivity, of sitting is like Mike Tyson berating your posterior leg muscles.
You aren’t moving when you are sitting
Well duh! 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 atrophy villain slowly creeps in.
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!
That analogy of your hamstrings like the cracked floor of Death Valley National Park doesn’t seem so far fetched now. Have I convinced you of the importance of movement yet? Hope so.
Ok, but we have one more piece to this hamstring recovery puzzle to put in place.
What Caused Your Pulled Hamstring in the First Place?
The hamstring strain doesn’t actually come from the act of sitting. It comes from moving the hamstring that is weak, atrophied, and shortened. It could be standing up too quickly, or an odd twist out of your car, or even while washing the dishes. The rubber band is in bad shape. Now you go to stretch it out to keep your journal tightly clasped or fix a leaky hose. Then snap! Bye, bye rubber band. Bye, bye hamstring.
So what have we learned so far? You can flatten a penny by getting a train to run over it? You likely already knew that. And isn’t that illegal? Hmmm…
But you certainly learned that sitting for long periods of time is not great for your hamstrings. But here are three other hamstring health bandits to watch out for.
Not Warming Up Before Exercising: It’s always good to warm up before a workout.
Tight Quad Muscles: If the muscles in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps) are tight they can pull your pelvis forward and tighten the hamstrings.
Weak Glute Muscles: Glutes and hamstrings work together. If the glutes are weak, hamstrings can feel overloaded and strained.
Ready for that hamstring treatment plan? Wait one second speedy Gonzales. Whether you have a pulled hamstring or your plane goes down in the snow swept Andes… it’s important to first survey the wreckage before you put a plan in place.
3 Grades of Hamstring Tears & How To Tell The Difference
The hamstring doesn’t really “snap” like a rubber band. It tears. Sometimes just a smidge. Other times, your excruciating pain will make you wonder if you should push that medical alert button in your bathroom.
This is a mild tear and should not interfere with walking or life in general. It will likely be uncomfortable but manageable. You may have a bit of bruising and tenderness.
This partial tear in the hamstring muscle will likely cause you to limp with swelling and painful twinges to boot. You’ll also have pain while you exercise and may notice a popping or snapping feeling.
This complete tear will lead to severe pain and you’ll likely be hobbling on crutches for at least a couple of months. Swelling and bruising within 24 hours will often join the pain ensemble to fill out the harmonies. So go see your doctor if you think you have a grade 3!
“Well this is depressing. I guess I’ll kick my new set of golf clubs to the curb and turn on Jeopardy again. Oh darn. Thanks for reminding me again about Alex. Now I’m double-depressed!”
Not so fast, partner.
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, the quicker you’ll be swinging your 5 iron again. And of course, hamstring exercises come riding in to the rescue like knights in shining armor.
4 At-Home Leg Exercises For A Pulled Hamstring
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.
Grab a rolling pin. While sitting on your bed or floor, lift the knee of the injured leg up enough to reach the hamstring. Use firm pressure and roll a rolling pin against the hamstring. Use enough pressure to get deep within the hamstring without feeling pain.
Do this for 1 minute.
*Video demonstration coming soon*
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.
Press your heel into the bed or floor for 5 seconds. If you feel pain or cramping, back off. You don’t need to perform it with full force, especially when you have a more serious pulled hamstring. I recommend doing this exercise 10 times with a few seconds rest between each set.
Remember when I mentioned weak glutes are one of the hamstring health bandits? Here’s how to stop that bandit and lock him away for good.
Stand facing a wall. Place your hands on the wall for balance. While keeping the knee straight, lift the injured leg up and behind you as far as you comfortably can, typically about 6-8 inches. Squeeze the buns while performing the movement. Make sure the motion is slow and controlled.
Your goal isn’t to get your leg up high. Your goal is to perform the movement with control. Also, keep your low back straight. You shouldn’t feel any extension or back bending while doing the movement.
At the top of the movement, hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat 10 times with a few seconds rest between each set.
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.
Stand next to a wall or chair but try not to touch it unless you lose your balance. Bring your arms out to help you maintain balance. Lift the unjured leg up until your knee is about 90 degrees. Try to hold this pose for 15 seconds.
Repeat 3 times.
Feel free to perform each of the above exercises on both sides even if only one of your hamstrings is injured. These exercises can help protect against a hamstring strain just as easily as rehabbing from a hamstring strain.
Should I Use a Brace If I Have a Hamstring Strain?
Compression braces can be very helpful during the first few weeks of rehabbing the injury. A brace can help relieve pain, keep the area warm, increase blood flow, and provide gentle stability.
“Now wait just a diddly darn second Coach Todd! A compress’n brace sounds an awwwwfa lot like ya flattin’ out dat hamstring. I thought it wad bad?”
Ok, calm down Cletus…
Remember when I mentioned your body turns on it’s hamstring treatment engine almost immediately? Well, part of that engine is called inflammation. It swells up the hamstring to protect it, among other things. Unfortunately, that swelling and inflammation can also cause pain. So a compression brace helps remove some of the inflammation. Your body is still in healing mode, but the pain has decreased a bit.
Here are some helpful tips for choosing what type of compression tool to use.
When the pain starts to disappear, decrease the time you wear the compression device. You are not the bionic man and your body should rely upon its own muscles for stability, not a device.
How Will I Know My Hamstring Strain Has Healed?
The hamstring strain recovery time is different for each person. Be patient with your body. There are millions of processes happening inside your leg to heal the muscle. You can speed up the process with the above exercises and tips but don’t return to your old level of physical activity until…
- You can move your injured leg as freely as your uninjured leg
- Your injured leg feels as strong as your uninjured leg
- 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…
Once the pain has been exorcised, it’s not time to climb back into that lazy boy. It’s time to protect your body and hamstrings from future injuries. Get moving. Take care of your body by strengthening your muscles and you’ll be delighted when your body takes care of you.
-To your health!