What Is A Hamstring Injury?

Your hamstring is a group of three muscles along the back of your thigh. These muscles help you bend your knee and straighten and rotate your leg. If the muscle fibers or tendons that connect your hamstring to your bone are stretched too far or loaded with too much weight, a hamstring pull or tear may occur.

Hamstring Pull vs. Tear

Hamstring pulls or strains happen when the muscles get overstretched but do not tear. These heal on their own with rest and over-the-counter pain medication.

Hamstring injuries are categorized into three grades:

  • Grade 1: Minor hamstring injury, often called a strain or pulled hamstring
  • Grade 2: Partial hamstring tear (only a portion of the muscle or tendon is torn)
  • Grade 3: Complete hamstring tear (tendons that attach the hamstring muscles to the bone are torn away completely)

Why Choose University of Utah Health for Hamstring Tear Treatment?

Our Orthopaedics Services is committed to assisting patients increase their quality of life using state-of-the-art, proven treatment and surgical options to diagnose and treat hamstring tears and injuries.

Hamstring Injury Causes

Anyone can experience a hamstring tear. You could be at higher risk of injury if you:

  • play sports that involve running or dancing;
  • participate in recreational activities, like waterskiing or rock climbing;
  • are a young athlete with bones and muscles that are still growing;
  • have a muscle imbalance;
  • overexert your body during sports or recreation;
  • do not have enough strength or conditioning for certain activities; or
  • do not stretch properly before exercise or sports.
Older caucasian man on the ground with pulled hamstring

Hamstring Tear Symptoms

People who experience a hamstring tear usually experience:

  • sudden, sharp pain in the back of their thigh,
  • a popping sensation in their leg,
  • tenderness around their muscle,
  • swelling on the back of their leg a few hours after the injury,
  • pain while sitting down,
  • bruising within a few days, and
  • weakness or instability in the injured leg.

What Does It Feel Like to Tear a Hamstring?

Symptoms of a complete hamstring tear are more severe. People often describe it as being shot in the upper leg or buttocks, or a sudden, stabbing pain. After a complete hamstring tear, you may not be able to put any weight on your leg or straighten your leg.

It’s important to see an orthopedic specialist immediately to get a potential hamstring tear diagnosed. Waiting to see a doctor or toughing it out will make a hamstring tear harder to repair with surgery.

Hamstring Tear Diagnosis

We will check for tenderness and swelling on the back of your leg to find where the pain is most severe or intense. This helps us diagnose the type of tear and determine if there is damage to your ligaments or tendons.

We may also recommend one or more imaging tests (namely an X-ray, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging) to see if there are any fractures or tears in your bones, muscles, or tendons.

If you see bruising in your thigh after a hamstring injury, contact your doctor to schedule an MRI within one week of your injury, or as quickly as possible after that. Your doctor will use the MRI to determine if you need surgery. Surgery works best when it’s performed within two to three weeks from injury, so early diagnosis is important.

Hamstring Tear Treatment

Non-Surgical Treatment for Partial Hamstring Tears

Most partial hamstring tears do not need surgery. They typically heal with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medication like ibuprofen, and RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

You may need to use crutches or a cane to keep the weight off your hamstring muscles while they heal. We may also recommend wrapping bandages around your thigh or wearing compression shorts to prevent swelling.

Some partial hamstring tears are more severe and need additional treatment. If a minor hamstring injury does not start feeling better within a couple weeks after using RICE and over-the-counter pain medications, schedule an appointment to see an orthopedic specialist.

Complete Hamstring Tear Surgery & Repair

You will need surgery for a complete hamstring tear because it will not heal on its own. If the tear is in your proximal hamstring (the tendons that attach your hamstring to the pelvic bone), we will use sutures (stitches) to reattach the tendons to your pelvic bone where they tore away.

Surgery for proximal hamstring tears is easiest and safest shortly after the injury (within two to three weeks) so early diagnosis is very important.

Hamstring Tear Recovery Time

Mild hamstring tears or strains (grade 1) and partial hamstring tears (grade 2) take three to eight weeks to heal. During that time, it’s important to rest your hamstring and avoid activities that could make your injury worse, including exercise and sports. Your doctor may also recommend physical therapy to strengthen your hamstring.

Complete hamstring tears (grade 3) take three to six months to heal after surgery. You will need crutches for two to three weeks after surgery since you won’t be able to put much weight on your injured leg. Normally, most patients can walk without crutches about one month after surgery.

Hamstring Tear Rehab

After your initial recovery on crutches, your orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist will create a treatment plan to slowly increase your range of motion and build strength. You will use physical therapy exercises to build up your strength so you can return to regular activity. It takes up to three months after surgery for most people to function normally.

For high-level and recreational athletes, your orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist will create a “return to sport” protocol that takes three to six months and prepares you to get back to training and competition.

You may have some irritation after returning to normal training and activities. This is a result of scar tissue breaking up around the surgery site as your tendons get used to doing more activity. If you experience a lot of pain or sudden, severe pain when you return to sports, talk to your provider right away.

Find a Hamstring Tear Specialist

Schedule An Appointment With An Orthopedic Specialist

If you have a hamstring injury or think you might have a hamstring injury, call 801-587-7109 to meet with one of our orthopedic specialists. We are highly experienced and trained to diagnose these types of injuries and customize a treatment plan to get you back to the activities you love.

You do not need a referral to schedule an appointment at U of U Health Orthopaedics. If you are a referring provider, please use our online referral form.