Hamstring soreness or muscle injuries (aka “pulled hamstring”) are both common and painful. A pulled hamstring or strain is an injury to one or more of the muscles at the back of the thigh. The muscle name “hamstring” is descriptive, with “ham-” referring to the fat and muscle behind the knee. “String” refers to supporting tendons–all located on either side of the back of the knee. Your hamstrings are actually three muscles in your posterior thigh (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, biceps femoris). Those muscles flex (bend) the knee and extend (straighten) the hip.
Hamstring strains often happen if you don’t warm up properly before exercise, or your quadriceps (muscles in front of your thigh) are a lot stronger than your hamstrings or you’re a teenager in a growth spurt.
You’ll know when you have hamstring issues. Usually sudden and severe pain during exercise, sometimes with a snapping or popping feeling, tenderness, pain in back of thigh and lower buttock when walking, straightening the leg, or bending over. Sometimes there’s bruising, too.
Most hamstring strains heal on their own–but it can take some time. If your hamstrings are just sore, massage therapy can ease pain quickly and result in a much faster recovery. To accelerate recovery of an actual strained hamstring, avoid putting any weight on the leg as much as possible. Ice your leg to reduce pain and swelling. Use an elastic bandage around the leg to keep down swelling. Elevate your leg on a pillow when you’re sitting or lying down.
“Massage therapy has a significant effect on the length and flexibility of hamstring muscles.” (Foreman, Geertsen & Rogers, DeAnza College, May 2013.)
If your hamstrings are super-sore, take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Motrin, Aleve, or Naprosyn will help with pain and swelling.
After you’ve recovered, stretching and strengthening and regular therapeutic massage as part of your regular routine are the best protection against hamstring strain.