Encouraging Healthy Hamstrings With Physical Therapy Exercises
This article about healthy hamstrings was written by Paul Nasri, PT, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy, Sarrica Physical Therapy & Wellness
Hamstring strains (also referred to as a “pulled hamstring”) are very common in the athletic populations. Soccer, basketball, football, and running are some of the sporting activities that commonly result in these injuries, because they are all sports where participants move around a lot. So, how do these injuries happen, and how can you reduce the risk of suffering from one?
Participants in the below athletics are often impacted in the following ways:
Soccer players: A hamstring strain typically happens during the eccentric or deceleration phase of a kick (basically the “forward” or “follow through” phase). At this time, the hamstring is overstretched too quickly and can tear.
Baseball players: These types of injuries happen most often when sprinting to first base or traveling quickly across the outfield to catch a fly ball.
Runners: These types of hamstring injuries occur when athletes over-stride and pull themselves forward with the use of their hamstrings. Uphill running most commonly irritates the injury, potentially making it more severe and requiring more time to heal.
Keeping Hamstrings Healthy Via Physical Therapy Exercise
In order to promote healthy hamstrings and overall ability to participate in the sports that we enjoy, there are many considerations that athletes can (and should) make each time they take the field. The following list is only a small number of ideas and actions that people can practice.
- Improving the way you use your body when running in order to ensure that the movements are safe
- Increasing hamstring strength (concentric and eccentric) and flexibility (static and dynamic) gradually over time
- Stretching exercises can improve hip and gluteal muscle function, releasing tension and increasing the amount of control people have over their hamstrings.
- Changing diet to include foods and beverages that will promote muscle recovery
In many instances, you will be provided with a home exercise program to perform on your own as well, as long as your body can physically handle it – meaning that the injury does not prevent you from taking care of yourself and regaining strength. In physical therapy cases, patients are typically seen after they have already had a hamstring injury and need help getting back to having healthy hamstrings. Therefore, they are treated with soft tissue massage, myofascial release, stretching, and corrective exercise as a means of healing help.
The focus is on making sure that an injury doesn’t happen again once it has healed, but it’s also on keeping people safe throughout the process. That is accomplished with progressive loading, drills for control, and flexibility training under the careful supervision of trained and capable physical therapists and other medical professionals.
Patients Recover From Hamstring Injuries Using Common Types of Exercise
Recovering from hamstring injuries is about more than simply waiting for the injury to resolve itself and doing nothing in the meantime. Since the legs are used on a daily basis, by most, strengthening and conditioning these muscles while they heal is imperative. Listed below are some of the most common and useful exercises that physical therapists will use with their clients during the recovery period that will lead patients on the way back to having healthy hammies in a safe and effective manner.
1. Hip Hinge: Tall Kneeling
This exercise helps to retrain the hip extensors, focusing on the gluteus maximus. The band is used as an external tactile cue. Be sure to avoid hyperextension of the lower back while completing this hamstring exercise.
2. Deadlifts: Using Kettlebells
The deadlift is a very functional movement pattern, and is beneficial for core, back and hip strengthening all at the same time. This isn’t simply an exercise for healthy hamstrings, it’s a way to do a lot of good for the body at once.
4. Hamstring Stretch: Active Style
This is a great active stretch for the hamstrings. Passive stretching with a static hold is fine as well, but this stretch forces you to move throughout the range of the motion without overtaxing your body.
5. Bridges : Roll out and Heel Driven, Double/Single Leg
Double/single leg bridge: Bridging is a very critical movement pattern to perform when recovering after a hamstring injury like a strain. This can help to differentiate between hamstring and gluteal recruitment. Most patients with overworked hamstrings have decreased gluteal activation and motor control, meaning that these functions will need to be increased and improved as the healing happens
Roll out bridge: This is a high level hamstring exercise that focuses on concentric and eccentric control of the healing hamstring muscles. Performing this exercise is a good progression after bridging, but is only recommended only once control has been redeveloped.
Heel driven bridge: This bridge variation is focused on contracting the hamstrings. It isn’t an exercise to perform in the acute stage of injury, but it can be very helpful in the next stage of recovery.
6. Deadlift – Single Leg
This exercise is a great hip stability exercise because it forces you to maintain a single leg stance. It is very important to hinge at the hips for this one. You may not always use the foam roller, but it helps to maintain the appropriate form throughout the hamstring exercise. Feel free to advance this by using a dumbbell or kettlebell for additional external resistance.
Utilizing Physical Therapy Services for Healthy Hamstrings
Your physical therapist may want you to complete one or more of these exercises while you’re focused on recovering, but before beginning an exercise routine at home, be sure to consult with them. While you will want to feel and see progress, it’s important that you only do so when it is safe. After an injury, if you’re looking to connect with a physical therapist that can help you develop a plan for healing, look no further than Sarrica Physical Therapy and Wellness or use the BetterPT clinic locator tool. This site will put you in touch with teams of physical therapists that will help you recover from hamstring injuries and provide valid advice to ensure overall safety. Another option is to download the BetterPT app which allows you to find a facility or network close to you in a few simple clicks.
Dr. Paul Nasri is a licensed physical therapist in New York state, experienced in working with sports and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Nasri’s focus after graduation in 2016 is on analysis of how to best reduce injury risk during training and participating in sports. Not only working with Sarrica Physical Therapy, Dr. Nasri also works on staff at Staten Island University Hospital, and focuses on one-on-one treatment sessions for patients that have suffered not only sports injuries, but also those recovering from stroke, spinal cord injury, total joint replacement and traumatic brain injury or TBI.