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Knowing how to treat a pulled hamstring is a must to prevent the pain, bruising, and swelling that is so common among sprinters and other athletes. It happens when one of the three hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh is stretched beyond its normal capacity and can leave lasting effects. While surgery is sometimes necessary, many of the home treatments listed below can be effective for most cases.
If you have a mild to moderate hamstring injury then these home treatments can tackle the pain and swelling to give you a little more comfort.
When you have a muscle injury then treatment using the RICE acronym is a great place to start. It’s simple, yet effective. Learn more about it here:
As with any injury, rest is necessary to let your body heal. With a hamstring strain you’ll need to rest your injured leg to prevent further injury. If it’s painful to put weight onto your leg, call your doctor and grab a pair of crutches to support your weight.
Muscle injuries respond well to ice and heat. Immediately after your injury, use an ice pack on the back of your thigh for 20-minute intervals. The cold will numb the pain and reduce swelling. After the initial injury phase has passed then you can use heat to increase blood flow to the area and improve healing time. Be cautious with heat, the warmth can make swelling worse.
Another home treatment after a hamstring muscle strain is to use compression with an elastic bandage, tape, or brace. A compression bandage will reduce swelling and support your muscle. An elastic bandage is wrapped around your hamstring and is fairly easy to put on and take off. Tape is more restrictive but can give more support. A brace is easy to put on and take off and can be used over and over again.
The last piece of the RICE acronym is elevation. Muscle injuries benefit from elevation because it encourages blood flow back to the heart and decreases swelling. When you are sitting on your couch or laying in bed, put a couple of pillows or a stack of blankets under your leg. The goal is to get your hamstring muscles above the level of your heart.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) reduce pain and swelling. These medications can be found over-the-counter and are generally considered safe for most people. But always be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking a new medication to prevent any unwanted side effects.
After the pain and swelling of a pulled hamstring has subsided then it’s time to start stretching and exercising. Begin slowly with hamstring stretches to regain your range of motion. Strengthening exercises will help you regain muscle strength in your leg which will prevent reinjury.
Foam rolling is a form of self-massage that targets deep within the muscles to break apart adhesions, scar tissue, and reduce muscle tension. Use a foam roller while you are recovering from a pulled hamstring to loosen the tight muscles. Avoid foam rolling if you have any swelling or bruising, it can make it worse.
A moderate or severe injury or one that involves a muscle tear will need medical treatment. A pulled hamstring can cause significant pain, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a medical professional for help.
A physical therapist is professionally trained to treat muscle injuries. During your first appointment, your therapist will evaluate your injury and come up with a treatment plan. Their goal will be to help you restore full function of your leg by regaining muscle strength, improving your range of motion, and getting rid of pain and swelling. They will guide you through specific exercises and stretches in the office and have a plan for you to do some at home.
Surgery for a pulled hamstring is reserved for the most severe cases. Tendon avulsion is one case where surgery is needed. It’s when the tendon has come completely off the bone. A complete tear in the muscle also requires surgery. Your surgeon will discuss the specifics of the surgery and expected recovery time.
A pulled hamstring is a painful injury that involves the muscles on the back of the leg. For most cases, home treatment with RICE, medication, exercise, and foam rolling can help speed up healing. If you have a more severe case then you will likely need the help of a physical therapist and maybe even a surgeon. Your doctor is the best place to start when dealing with an injury, always call before you begin treatment to make sure you are on the right road to recovery.
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