Hamstring injuries have been reported as one of the most common injuries across a variety of sports that involve repetitive kicking and/or high speed running, such as soccer, track and field, football, and rugby. Re-injury rates are also an issue affecting many athletes long term, with roughly 30% of athletes suffering a re-injury to the hamstring within the first year. In order to prevent hamstring injuries it is important to understand WHY they occur, and to develop a prevention program which targets these risk factors.
The hamstrings are a group of 3 muscles, the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. Their main purpose is to bring the hip back and bend the knee. The majority of injuries to the hamstrings are strains to the biceps femoris long head muscle. Injury occurs mainly during sprinting, as the muscles contract eccentrically to decelerate the leg.
What are the Risk Factors?
Unfortunately, the older you get, the higher your chance for hamstring injury. The age when the risk starts to significantly increase is 25 years old, with research suggesting a 30% increase in risk annually thereafter.
Tight hamstrings aren’t the only problem; tight hip flexors and/or quads are also problematic.
Muscle imbalance within the lumbopelvic region and/or weakness in the hamstrings;
Previous injury to the hamstring, groin and/or knee.
The Most Effective Hamstring Prevention Program
Eccentric Strengthening Program
The majority of hamstring injuries occur during sprinting when the muscle is working eccentrically. As such, eccentric strengthening programs have been shown to decrease the risk of hamstring injury by 65-70%. The most popular and widely studied exercise for hamstring injury prevention is The Nordic Hamstring Exercise. We strongly encourage all athletes to add this exercise to their strengthening regime. However, it shouldn’t be the only hamstring exercise you do. While it has been shown to decrease the risk of hamstring injury significantly, it only activates part of the hamstring muscles (specifically the semitendinosus and short head of the biceps femoris). 80% of hamstring injuries occur to the long head of the biceps femoris, which is better activated with a hip extension exercise such as deadlifts. The most effective hamstring injury prevention program should focus on targeting all the hamstring muscles with both knee and hip dominant movements. Below you will find 2 different exercises: the nordic hamstring exercise and straight leg weighted deadlifts. We recommend doing both for the greatest benefit. See a progressive 12 week schedule below:
Frequency 2x/week x 12 weeks.
Week 1-3: 3 sets of 5-6 reps
Week 4-6: 4 sets of 6-7 reps
Week 7-9: 4 sets of 8-9 reps
Week 10-12: 4 sets of 10-12 reps
Nordic Hamstring Exercise: Can be completed with a partner holding your legs or hooking feet under something heavy. Lower yourself forward, keeping your back and hips straight. Once you cannot go any further push yourself back into start position.
Work on your core
While strengthening the hamstrings is important, you can’t forget about everything else that helps support, align and coordinate the hips. If there is an imbalance around the hip such as tight hip flexors, weak glutes, etc., the hamstrings will be more susceptible to injury. In addition, exercise programs that focus on trunk stabilization and agility vs. a traditional program of ONLY hamstring stretching and strengthening post injury results in a quicker return to sport and significantly much lower reoccurrence rate (7% vs. 70%).
Most hamstring injuries occur during sprinting, especially later in the game when fatigue sets in. Therefore, strengthening and isolating the hamstrings in the gym is essential, but you must also include interval speed training to improve coordination, large hip/knee joint torques, and explosive strength. Weekly sprint workouts have been shown to prevent hamstring injuries. Like all training loads, ensure the sprinting load (distance, reps and speed) is progressed gradually.
Where to go from here?
If you currently are suffering from a hamstring injury it is best to book an appointment with a therapist and get on an individualized rehab plan. If you are currently injury free and would like to stay that way, then add the above hamstring exercises to your current strengthening program following the 12-week plan. If you want more bang for your buck, then add some core and hip stability exercises as well. If you still have questions or want more guidance on injury prevention book an appointment with one of the Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine therapists at 905-849-4576.
Heiderscheit et al., (2010). Hamstring strain injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention. Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 67-81.
Liu et al., (2012). Injury rate, mechanism, and risk factors of hamstring strain injuriesin sports. A review of the literature. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 92-101.
Prior et al., (2009). An evidence based approach to hamstring strain injury. A systematic review of the literature. Sports Health. 154-164.