The hamstring muscles play a critical role in nearly every sport because they are the ones an athlete uses to increase speed and make quick changes in direction. Hamstring injuries can be very debilitating and should be taken very seriously, particularly in children.
Here are a few facts about the hamstring muscles and injury:
- Injuries to the hamstring muscles, the major muscles at the back of the thigh, are most likely caused by a muscle strength imbalance between the hamstrings and the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh.
- Hamstring injuries tend to recur.
- Hamstring injuries most offen occur at the very beginning of competition (as a result of inadequate warm-up) or at the end (as a result of muscle fatigue).
- Minor muscle strains and slight tears will usually heal in a few weeks, but more severe muscle strains and tears can take 4-6 weeks to heal.
Because severely damaged hamstring muscles will only heal to 80% of their original strength, at best, an athlete trying to come back before the muscles have fully recovered is at risk of permanent injury and increased risk of re-injury.
If you child has suffered a hamstring injury, here is what you can do as a parent:
First 24-48 hours:
Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE) and anti-inflammatory medicine (ibuprofen/Advil®) to control the swelling.
No excessive stretching or strengthening.
Examination by a doctor or physical therapist recommended to assess the extent of the injury and develop a treatment and rehabilitation plan.
After 48 hours:
Begin a light stretching program
Keep the periods of stretching short and spread out over the course of the day: Five short periods of stretching (3-5 minutes) are much better than one 25-minute session.
Progress to longer bouts of stretching and daily tasks (walking and standing with no crutches).
Stretching program should be pain limited: some pain on stretching is okay, but the pain should be no more than a light irritation (your child should be able to tell you that he is aware of the hamstring when stretching, but it doesn't hurt or slow him down). If he tells you he has sharp pain, constant dull aching, or he grabs the hamstring when stretching, he is pushing the muscle too far and needs to back off.
No strength training until the damaged hamstring can be stretched to the same length as the healthy hamstring on his other leg. This is very important because if the muscle is strengthened while it is tight, it will stay tight, increasing the risk of re-injury!
Return to play
Your child is ready to resume practicing when the hamstring does not hurt at all while walking, sitting, standing, sleeping, squatting, going up and down stairs, light jogging, lunging, and balancing on one leg, and his physician or physical therapist gives the okay. Any pain or dysfunction while performing any of these tasks is a sign that the muscle is still healing and that your child is not ready to resume playing sports.