How to know if you pulled your hamstring

If you’re regularly active in the gym, on a sports team or in training for a race or event, chances are you’ll suffer a hamstring injury at some stage. Your hamstrings are tough fibres called tendons that attach your thighs to the bone. Pulling a hamstring can also refer to a sprain or strain in the actual muscle that runs down your thigh from below the buttock, to below the knee. The NHS advises that hamstring injuries are common among athletes. There are a number of ways you can tell if you have pulled yours.


Runner’s World says that because hamstrings pass over two joints, the hip joint and the knee, they are most likely to be pulled or strained when your hip is bent while the knee is kept straight. You’re not likely to pull your hamstring when walking or jogging at a steady pace. Instead, hamstring pulls and strains typically occur when you jump or lunge suddenly, change direction suddenly, over-reach or fall, sprint, hurdle or climb.


If you’ve pulled your hamstring you'll feel a sudden pain in the area of the strain, the upper thigh. You may also feel the injury behind your knee. A hamstring tear can be heard sometimes as a popping sound. Your hamstring muscle tightens and feels tender. Straitening the knee and stretching the muscle cause pain if your hamstring's gone, although nothing is immediately obvious when the knee is bent. A tear in your hamstring may also result in bruising beneath the skin.


Rest your hamstring for at least two days until it feels better in order to fully recover from the injury. The NHS says you can walk, cycle and swim during this time if you feel no pain, but cannot run or jump. Relieve any swelling and pain with an ice pack applied to your raised thigh for 10 minutes every couple of hours through the first two days following the injury. Take ibuprofen or paracetemol if necessary. When the pain lessens after resting, gently stretch the hamstring muscle.


The degree of pain you feel, and how quickly you can return to your regular sporting activities, depends on how severely you've pulled or torn your hamstring. The NHS says hamstring tears range from the minor strain, a grade one tear, to the complete muscle rupture, a grade three tear. In the case of the most severe injury, you will not be able to take part in physical activity for several months.


You're more likely to pull a hamstring when you're out of condition, running or playing sport with poor technique, tired, or training without an adequate warm-up. Warm your hamstring before exercise by standing with one leg extended and the foot pointing up. Then bend towards the leg until you feel your hamstring stretch. Make sure you also cool down after a workout by stretching your hamstrings in a similar fashion. Lie on your back and lift your right leg with your left leg straight and against the floor. Pull your right leg towards you and then repeat with the opposite side.


There is no single test for a pulled hamstring, although the injury is very common, report researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Other conditions may also cause pain in the thigh and the area of the injury should be carefully examined in order to make sure you have indeed pulled your hamstring, according to Runner’s World. Other painful conditions include Baker’s cyst, ligament strains and damage to the sciatic nerve.

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About the Author

Louise Carr has been writing and editing for consumer and business media since 2000. She covers health, travel, literature and current affairs, including for LIVESTRONG.COM and other online publications. Carr holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in American and English studies from Nottingham University, England.