The following is part 1 of a multi-article series on the recovery, rehab and prevention of one of the most frustrating and debilitating injuries in sport: the pulled/torn hamstring. I’ve experienced more of these than I’d like to admit (let’s just say going from no problems to having 4 major pulls in 10 months and a number of more minor injuries will provoke some research into the topic), and I want to give you a guide for what has worked best for me and what you need to do to get back on track/field/court/etc.
First things first: I’m not a doctor or physical therapist. If you use what I tell you and something goes wrong, you should’ve listened to someone with a “Dr.” in front of their name. That said, use what you can of this article series, be SMART about it, and you should recover faster and more completely AND hopefully, never feel the frustration of pulling that pork chord again.
It should also be noted that this guide’s “timeline” is intended more for what we call “Grade 1” or “Grade 2” strains or pulls; if you were unfortunate enough to completely tear that sucker, I can’t help you much on the timeline and you’ll have to take things a lot slower. Everything is dependent on your situation. As athletes, we’re all kind of crazy, but we don’t have to be dumbasses. Don’t be a dumbass. Without further a-doo-doo, let’s get to work.
Let me guess, you were sprinting or decelerating and, just like that–you feel a pull in the back of your upper leg. Maybe you felt a pop, maybe you didn’t. Either way–you need to take action NOW! NOW!!!
IMMEDIATELY–or as soon as f*cking possible–get ice to the injured area. You need to get it wrapped on there TIGHT and ice the entire posterior portion of that leg.
I emphasize wrapping–the experts are right when they say to get that sucker iced and compressed, and you need to be doing it as SOON as humanly possible. Once you get it wrapped up, elevate it if you can (keep the leg bent comfortably) and ice in 20 minutes on/20-30 minutes off intervals as much as possible before bedtime.
Immediately after the pull, DO:
- Get ice to the injured area as soon as humanly possible
- Compress the injured area (preferably wrapped around the ice) as soon as humanly possible
- Elevate the leg without causing any stretching/pain
Immediately after the pull, DO NOT:
- Stretch the leg: this is a gut instinct for a lot of people. DO NOT STRETCH YOUR F*CKING LEG IF YOU THING YOU HAVE PULLED YOUR HAMSTRING. If it’s pulled, you just caused a tear in the muscle, what’s easier to sew up–a small hole or one you insanely bigger by aggravating and stretching the site of the injury???
- Try to “run through it”. Live to play another day. I know, I’ve made the mistake before. And this is one of the hardest thing for an athlete to do, but taking care of the hamstring now by avoiding excess stress will get you back in action a lot faster than making the injury worse will. THINK LONG TERM!!!
- STRETCH THE F*CKING INJURY SITE: I can’t emphasize not stretching the leg directly following the injury enough. Don’t do this. Please.
- Apply heat or muscle rubs: right now we want to reduce swelling as much as possible, heating the area will increase blood flow and delay your eventual recovery. Don’t do this. Yet.
- Don’t stretch the injury site, dipsh*t.
Night of the pull, lay off the “hip thrusting”
Do your leg a favor and keep the “extra-curriculars” to a minimum. All jokes aside, take it EASY tonight, continue icing the leg and keep it wrapped and elevated as much as possible.
As much as you might be tempted to, you don’t want to ice in bed. This can get you a lot of questions on your ability to hold your bladder and waking up in a cold puddle is just uncomfortable for everyone involved. Instead, just wrap it up nice and tight and wait to ice until the morning.
Also, in preparation for tomorrow, get a couple of styrofoam or plastic cups (styrofoam works better but any disposable cup works) fill them to the top with water and stick them in the freezer. You’ll need them tomorrow.
Note: the “Do Nots” are the same as those listed above.
The morning after
Let’s hope there’s no limping. At this point, you’re probably in one of a few places: sore, but not to the point of limping (the site may be tender to the touch); walking around like a cripple (walking stairs and pulling off your other shoe with the injury leg is always a fun wake up call); and anywhere in between those two extremes. If you tore it completely, you may need crutches and your leg is probably completely black and blue by now. Good luck (you’re going to want to continue icing and get a specialist to look at it ASAP).
For the less severe guys, I like to start off day 2 with some pretty aggressive ice massage. Get out one of the cups I told you to freeze and break off the end and start to rub the shit out of your hamstring with it. Depending on your range of motion right now, it may be more comfortable to do laying down or seated, but you want your knee in a flexed position (heels toward the butt) and the hamstring in a relaxed state (shouldn’t be stretched or contracting).
Firmly, slowly massage the injury site with the ice cup for 5 to 10 minutes (not to the point of pain, but you may be able to get out some of the “easier” knots and tension safely at this point). We still want to stay away from stretching, but SOME of the tightness that’s bugging you can be safely worked out if your careful and smart about it. When it doubt, be LESS aggressive with the massage and let the ice do the work. Again, we don’t want anything to INCREASE pain right now.
When your done, wrap it up again nice and tight and go about your business. Try to keep icing or ice massaging as much as possible throughout the day (no more than 20 minutes at a time, Mr. Freeze), and keep it wrapped up and elevated as much as you can.
Again, the don’ts remain the same for this portion as they were before. Stay away from the stretching and heat.
Prepping for recovery
DO NOT overlook this aspect. On day 2, you should start looking for a “bodywork” guy or gal in your area that KNOWS WHAT THE HELL THEY’RE DOING!!!
I have a guy at Airrosti in San Antonio that KICKS ASS. He knows his way around a hamstring.
I’ve also been to people who have no idea what the hell a hamstring is. You need to know find somebody who knows a quality practitioner and start trying to set up an appointment between days 3-5 post-injury. If the guy/gal is good at what they do (and they should be if you follow the steps below) they’ll likely be busy and it won’t be easy to get in. Get yourself an appointment now and save the hassle.
Tips for finding a quality “bodyworker”
- You have a TON of resources at your disposal nowadays. Use them. Ask a question on a site like elitefts.com or go to the forums at charliefrancis.com and see if anyone knows of a quality therapist in your area. The experts on these sites know their stuff and won’t lead you wrong. They’re also likely to point you in the direction of someone who WILL know even if they don’t.
- Ask other athletes, former teammates, coaches, athletic trainers, etc. if they know of anyone. Be careful though, sometimes athletic trainers will frown upon you looking elsewhere for help, so you may have to either go STEALTH on getting the work done or, if you’re really lucky, your school’s trainer will be experienced with this stuff and you won’t have to shell out the dough for the therapy. This is also the best poor man’s option for those of you living on that meal plan money! (Been there!!!)
- Call the bodyworkers in your area and talk to them. See what you think. If you can’t get any info from any outside sources this is probably your best bet. Ask around and realize that it’s only fair for you to shop around if you’re going to spend your money on them.
Finally, keep icing, resting, wrapping and elevating, and in the next installment we’ll set you on the fast track to recovery.