What and where are the hamstrings?

  • The hamstring muscles are found at the back of your thigh and are composed of three main muscles; the biceps femoris muscle, the semimembranosus muscle and the semitendinosus muscle. The biceps femoris muscle is the most commonly injured. Hamstring strains occur when excessive or sudden tension is put through the hamstring muscle fibers.  Hamstring strains vary from simple strains to complete tears. However, sometimes there is no strain or tear and the muscle just feels tight.

4 reasons your hamstrings can feel tight:

1) Hamstring weakness–  If the muscles are weak they can be injured easier when they are put under high demand. This can happen when running, sprinting, during sports involving sudden acceleration and deceleration like hurling or kicking sports like gaelic football or soccor. For this reason stretching will not fix the problem. Hamstrings need to be strengthened to make them stronger with specific exercises to target them.

2) Muscle imbalance- The glutes and hamstrings need to be able to work together efficiently. For this to happen one can’t overrule the other. It is also important for the muscles at the front of the thigh, the quads, to work well with the hamstrings. Sometimes the quads can be stronger than the hamstrings and this can cause that feeling of tightness. If this occurs the hamstrings need to be strengthened to reduce the strength imbalance between the front and back of the thigh. Equally if the core muscles aren’t strong enough, the hamstrings can be put under pressure.

3) Hamstring strain or tear- one of the most common sports injuries. They can very often be recurrent, which is incredibly frustrating for players and their team-mates. Hamstring injuries have the highest recurrence rate of all injuries, with a 50% re-injury rate within the first 25 days of getting back to sport. With a hamstring strain there will be pain in one specific area of the muscle, usually caused during a sprint, sudden acceleration or deceleration or over-stretching when kicking a ball.

Strains must be properly treated with gradual controlled return to running, strengthening and controlled return to sport to stop them from happening again. Hamstrings need to get strong enough for what you are doing, if you need to get back sprinting, they need to be pretty strong. Too weak, and you’ll tear them again. 

4) Your hamstring isn’t the problem, it’s coming from somewhere else- different structures at the lower back and hips (i.e disc, nerve, muscle) can refer pain into the hamstring area at the back of the thigh which may lead you to believe your hamstrings are injured. However, the problem could be coming from higher up the chain. The sciatic nerve is a common referral source of pain into the hamstring area.

If you feel tightness in your hamstrings, have recurrent hamstring strains (or know someone who is), or you’re recovering from your first one and want to prevent it happening again, give us a shout. Don’t try to self manage. Rest and stretching won’t fix it, it’ll just keep coming back.  

You can email us at info@eastcoastphysio.ie, call 0404-49781 or book online at www.eastcoastphysio.ie/booking