Hamstring injuries come in various forms. They can be subtle, going unnoticed at the time of the injury, or explosive and painful, sometimes resulting in bruising on the back of the leg and muscle separation. Either way, rebuilding your strength and nursing the injury through rehabilitation is advised before you return to running or any other athletic activity.
Practice the RICE method of treatment upon your fist discovery of the injury. Begin with "Rest," followed by "Ice," "Compression"--as with an Ace bandage or other elastic bandage--and finally "Elevation." Use pillows to elevate the leg when you’re in bed.
Undergo a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, test on the injured hamstring before your resume your running regimen in full. A study by researchers from the Swedish Schhol of Sport and Health Sciences found that MRIs given within six weeks of the injury were accurate in predicting the recovery time to full, pre-injury levels. This can guide your rehabilitation regimen and help you start running again at the appropriate time after your hamstring injury.
Ask your doctor if you are a candidate for cortisone therapy injections to speed recovery. In a 13-year study of injured NFL players, the University of Maryland Medical Center found that a one-time intervention of cortisone reduced pain and shortened recovery times. Athletes with injuries that lie between joints rather than near the joints are candidates for the injection.
Stretch the hamstring from the moment you begin rehabilitation. Traditional standing bends at the waist target the hamstring, but you can also sit with your legs flat, toes to the sky, and lean forward. Re-ice the hamstring after each stretching session. Stretch several times per day to prevent the spasms and scar tissue buildup associated with hamstring injuries.
Walk your normal running path when you feel up to it. Only you can really tell how the leg feels, so be honest with yourself. Since severe injuries may involve torn muscle, always consult a doctor about your pain levels and your rehabilitation goals.
Run only when you can do so without favoring the injured leg. You risk peripheral injuries if you compensate for the injured leg. If you’re feeling pain or stiffness when you run after a hamstring injury, try a slower pace, or stay with walking as a therapy for a little longer.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Hamstring Injuries
- "American Journal of Sports Medicine"; Acute, First-time Hamstring Strains During High Speed Running: A Longitudinal Study Including Clinical and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Findings; Carl Askling, et al; 2007
- Athletic Advisor: Hamstring Strains