Massage Therapy & Hamstring Injuries

The hamstrings are three muscles on the back of your thigh. Hamstring injury is due to overuse or trauma. One of the factors in hamstring strain is an imbalance between the hamstrings and the quadriceps muscles. Massage can help to prevent hamstring injuries by balancing the muscles on the front and back of the leg. If you have a hamstring injury, massage can speed the healing, reduce pain and minimize scar tissue.

Hamstring injuries make a stretch like this painful and difficult. (Image: lokisurina/iStock/Getty Images)

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are three muscles in the back of your thigh: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris muscles. All three are anchored on the ischium, the "sitting bone." The semimembranosus and semitendinosus muscles insert on the medial, or inside, side of your leg below the knee. The biceps femoris inserts on the outside of your leg, below the knee. Together the three muscles bend your knee and extend your hip. Picture the movement your leg makes when you draw it backward before swinging it forward to kick a ball. The backward movement is controlled by the hamstrings.

Injuries

Hamstring injuries are graded into three categories: minor tears within the muscle, a partial tear of the muscle or a severe tear or rupture. Strain, or minor tears, will feel somewhat painful but not interfere significantly with movement. A muscle tear will be more painful, there may be swelling, and bending or straightening the knee will be difficult. If there is a severe tear or rupture, there will be immediate swelling and bruising, severe pain and you may need to use crutches to walk. You will be able to feel a depression in the muscle where the rupture occurred.

Treatment

The usual treatment for hamstring injuries is rest, ice, compression, elevation and massage. People with minor hamstring strains or tears often won't see a doctor but will self-treat or seek out a massage therapist for treatment. A severe tear or rupture often requires surgery to reattach the muscle and tendon. If the pain is severe, your movement is significantly limited and the condition is not improving, see a physician to rule out a ruptured muscle or a fracture before having massage.

Massage

The goal of massage is to speed healing, reduce muscle tightness and build healthy scar tissue. Once the injury has been examined to rule out any contraindications, the therapist begins with gentle massage to reduce swelling and speed healing using lymph drainage massage or gentle Swedish massage to stretch the muscle fibers. After stretching the entire muscle, the therapist will work to soften and mobilize tissues in the injured area.

Rehabilitation

As the injury heals the therapist will switch to deeper work, including transverse friction, across the injured muscle fibers, to help build healthy scar tissue. The massage therapist will use deep lengthwise strokes and kneading to make the muscle more pliable, and will move the leg to engage the muscles while simultaneously massaging the injured muscle, mimicking the effects of exercise.

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