It’s important to take care of your bike or to buy new running shoes when yours are old or worn.
But perhaps the best investment you can make for your life-long health and for becoming a better athlete is to protect your body, especially the your leg, butt and back muscles.
Strains to the hamstrings are among the most common injuries for runners and can also plague cyclists.
Sports medicine experts have started to see an increase in these types of injuries, and as a result, they’ve started to track what a pull or strain looks like, who often gets injured and how to treat and prevent injury, or in some cases, re-injury.
What happens to the muscles when they are strained?
Typically, a hamstring pull is a minor or major tear to the muscles. There are three hamstring muscles that work together to bend and flex the knee. They also drive the thigh backwards, allowing an individual to extend and flex from the hip.
Tears form when the muscles are overexerted, like when you sprint, or overworked, which can happen as you increase your workout intensity or duration.
Who is at greatest risk for a hamstring tear?
Sifting through the research, a group of sports medicine experts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio State found that athletes who had already strained their hamstring muscles have the greatest risk for injuring the muscle again.
Other studies also suggest that athletes who have tight quadriceps or who have strength imbalances between their hamstrings and quadriceps are also more likely to injure or re-injure their legs muscles, along with individuals with poor neuromuscular control and older athletes who tend to lose flexibility over time.
What can you do to prevent a hamstring injury or a re-injury?
According to the research, athletes who have hamstring strains in the past likely have residual scar tissue at the site of the injury. This tissue could affect the mechanics of the muscle and contribute to re-injury, particularly in the first year of returning to competition.
To prevent injury or re-injury, the researchers recommend strengthening the hamstrings, along with the glutes, quads and core, along with building dynamic agility and lower limb motor control.
Some suggested exercises
To build muscle strength, the experts suggest high-to-low and low-to-high wood chops, side-plank, back bridge holds and single-leg rotating reaches.
Exercises like marching, skipping and carioca build motor control, flexibility and dynamic agility. The researchers also suggest controlled hops initiated from the ball of the foot and ankle, what they call ankle pops, and explosive start drills, like a squat-jump followed by a sprint, or scrambling up from a push-up position to a full sprint.
Citation: Sherry, M. et al. Hamstring Strains: Basic Science and Clinical Research Applications for Preventing the Recurrent Injury. Strength & Conditioning Journal: June 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 3 – pp 56-71.
Ashley Yeager is a science writer and a triathlete. Follow her on twitter at @tri_science.