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How to avoid strained hamstring muscles while running?

The hamstrings are the muscles most prone to muscle damage when running. Among these injuries, strain is the least severe, with less impressive symptoms and faster recovery than in the case of strain. However, it is still an injury with an anatomical lesion, which requires diagnosis and appropriate treatment. How to avoid strained hamstrings when running? How is this injury treated?

What is a hamstring strain?

Located at the back of the thigh, the hamstrings are a set of three The hamstrings are the muscles most prone to muscle damage when running. Among these injuries, strain is the least severe, that allow hip extension and knee flexion: the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus and the semimembranosus. This muscle group extends from the hip to the back of the tibia and fibula (formerly fibula).

Hamstring strain is an injury that occurs when these muscles are stretched beyond their normal elasticity; excessive stretching which leads to micro-lesions of some muscle fibers. Most often, this injury occurs during intense physical activity, exceeding the capacity of an insufficiently prepared muscle.

A real health issue in the world of running, hamstring muscle injuries are the first injury diagnosed in sports involving sprinting. In athletics, football and rugby, they represent between 12 and 26% of injuries , hence the importance of an effective prevention strategy.

Note that elongation corresponds to the least serious stage of muscular accident with anatomical lesion . Indeed, we distinguish muscular accidents without injury (cramp, stiffness, contracture) from muscular accidents with injury, which are as follows (classified in increasing order of severity):

  • Muscle elongation

  • The strain (or muscle tear)

  • Muscle rupture

In the event of strain, the lesions and symptoms are therefore less impressive than in the presence of a strain, however the strain must be treated.

How to avoid strain during running?

To prevent hamstring injuries, sports doctors recommend warming up sufficiently before each workout, and not neglecting health and dietary variables such as diet and hydration. It is also advisable, after an injury or a period of downtime, to return to sport very gradually to avoid stretching the muscles beyond their capacity. Performing hamstring stretches before and after exercise is another way to avoid strain. Finally, each runner must listen to their body and use common sense, avoiding training beyond their capabilities or in the presence of unusual fatigue.

Preventing injuries , particularly those of the hamstrings, is an important aspect of running, which puts a lot of strain on the lower limb. The need for an effective prevention strategy has given rise to a certain number of scientific works, mentioned by P. Edouard et al. in 2018 in an article published in the Swiss Medical Review .

According to this work, an important area of ​​prevention consists of knowing the risk factors for hamstring muscle injuries, in order to adapt the prevention strategy to each runner. Indeed, despite some invariants, there is no ready-made solution applicable to everyone. Well known to sports health professionals, these risk factors are divided into those that are modifiable, such as hamstring versus quadriceps deficit, and those that are not modifiable, such as age, ethnicity and history of injury. Among the modifiable factors, lack of flexibility, lack of warm-up and muscle fatigue could also come into play.

Thus, in the event of intense running, it seems quite logical to recommend programs to strengthen the hamstrings to prevent strains and more serious injuries. The effectiveness of such programs on high-level athletes has been highlighted by several scientific studies, mentioned in the same article in the Swiss Medical Review . Somewhat limited effectiveness in the context of sprinting, which involves specific muscular demands, difficult to reproduce in a generic program.

How to treat a pulled hamstring muscle?

The treatment of a strained hamstring muscle is carried out in several stages: a first stage devoted to acute treatment , and a second stage devoted to appropriate rehabilitation .

The primary objective of acute care is to reduce pain and avoid worsening of the lesions. It includes the following measures:

  • Rest

  • Applying ice

  • Compression of the injured limb

  • Elevation of the injured limb

Sports rest is essential so that the injury can heal properly. Patients should refrain from running and jumping for at least a few days, otherwise healing will be delayed and the injury may worsen.

Once the pain has subsided, a few days after the trauma, rehabilitation can begin. Its primary objective is to allow the restoration of muscle function as quickly as possible, while limiting the risk of recurrence. Indeed, recurrences are common in cases of hamstring injury, even when it is a strain. Hamstring rehabilitation is done gradually, in several phases:

  • An initial phase involving gentle hamstring stretches

  • Then progressive work to strengthen the hamstrings , until satisfactory strength is obtained

The race resumes at the end, also very gradually. Muscle strength must be sufficient and pain absent to allow safe practice.

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