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Pulled Hamstring Recovery

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT October 06, 2020 0 Comments

What is a Pulled Hamstring?

Pulled hamstring muscles are common among active individuals. However, many are unaware that the hamstring muscle is actually composed of three separate muscles. The semitendinosus, the semimembranosus, and the biceps femoris control movement of the upper leg. They prove balance with the quadriceps on the front of the leg to assist with extending the hip and bending the knee. 

A pulled hamstring is an overextension or overexertion of this muscle group, due to physical stress. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, symptoms can vary from passing discomfort to extreme pain and loss of function. 

Hamstring muscles are biarticular, which means they affect two different joints in the leg, specifically the knee and hips. Because of this, the likelihood of incurring a hamstring pulled muscle is increased and the injury drastically affects the overall functioning of the leg.

Hamstring Strain Grades

The technical term for a pulled hamstring is a “hamstring strain.” A pulled hamstring can involve a muscle tear if the injury is more severe. If symptoms are severe, you may need to see your doctors to help identify the amount of damaged muscle fibers. Hamstring strains can be broken up into three grades:

  • Grade one strains, in which most of the muscle fibers are intact and symptoms are relatively mild, are classified as hamstring pulls.
  • Grade two strains occur when the hamstring fibers are partially torn, resulting in increased pain and loss of joint function.
  • When the hamstring is completely torn, you are experiencing a grade three strain, which is accompanied with the most severe symptoms and may require surgery.

Pulled Hamstring Causes

A pulled hamstring can result from accidents or injuries, or from long-term wear and tear that slowly erodes the muscle. During an injury, an audible pop is often heard, which is one clear sign of a pulled hamstring.

While pulled hamstrings are common in sports, they can actually be caused by a number of common activities and affect people of all lifestyles. Here are some contributing factors that can lead to a hamstring injury:

  • Failing to stretch or warm-up before exercise increases the likelihood of a pulled muscle.
  • An imbalance between the quadriceps and hamstring may pull the leg forward unnaturally and lead to a pulled hamstring behind the knee.
  • Poor footwear can cause problems throughout the entire leg, often impacting the hamstring.
  • Weak glutes can quickly lead to a pulled upper hamstring, as these two muscle groups work together.
  • Trying to increase your activity levels too quickly or suddenly (aka a weekend warrior)
  • Poor general flexibility- most common in middle-aged men. 

Pulled Hamstring Symptoms

The symptoms of a pulled hamstring vary widely, depending on the grade of the strain. Mild symptoms may include light discomfort that passes in a few days, while more severe cases can lead to excessive pain and loss of function.

The most obvious sign of a pulled hamstring is the audible popping noise or sudden pain that can accompany the pull. For more clues on the nature of your injury, look for the following tactile and visual symptoms:

What Does A Pulled Hamstring Feel Like?

Pulled hamstring pain is localized to the back of the leg and is most severe while walking, bearing weight, bending over, or straightening the knee. Pain may come on suddenly while exercising, or it may ache dully throughout the day.

What Does a Pulled Hamstring Look Like?

A quick visual check may help confirm your injury if your injury is more significant. For severe strains, bruising and swelling may be present on the back of the leg.

Pulled Hamstring Recovery

How long does a pulled hamstring take to heal? Pulled hamstring recovery time can range from days to months, depending on the severity of the injury and the patient’s age and medical history.

In most cases, pulled hamstring healing time is six to eight weeks, as long as a proactive treatment plan is pursued. Plenty of rest in the early stage of recovery plus ice, compression, and exercise will cut down on recovery time, as well as offer immediate pulled hamstring relief.

Long-Term Care for a Pulled Hamstring

Pulled hamstring care does not end once symptoms disappear. To protect against future pulls, incorporate long-term strategies to promote leg health, and discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor. During your recovery, make use of the variety of available exercises and equipment to support the process.


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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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