Skip to main content
Healing a Pulled Hamstring

You are listening to Health Library:

Healing a Pulled Hamstring

Dec 07, 2020

Is a pulled hamstring—also called a strained hamstring—something you can treat on your own, or should you see a doctor? Athletic trainer Travis Nolan shares how to determine when you should seek help, why it is essential to do the proper stretching and physical therapy, and how long it takes for hamstring strains to heal.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You pulled your hamstring. You might have been playing a competitive sport, you might have been just playing something with your friends, you might have been running around with your dog, and you feel a pain in the back of your leg. It's possibly a pulled hamstring. Is that something you can handle on your own, or is it something that you really should seek help for? We're going to find out the details on how to heal a pulled hamstring today.

Travis Nolan is an athletic trainer at University of Utah Health. Travis, how does somebody know if they pulled their hamstring? What are the symptoms? Where would you feel the pain and that sort of thing?

Travis: Usually, the signs and symptoms are going to be sudden onset of pain in the posterior thigh or sort of in that back thigh musculature just below your buttocks. And so you're going to have a sudden onset of pain, most of the time sharp, very pinpoint, and local, so you can pretty much point to one spot in that area. It's not going to be your entire muscle belly. And also decrease of motion, decrease in strength in that muscle belly.

Those are some of your immediate signs and symptoms that you're definitely going to notice right away.

Interviewer: And if somebody does pull their hamstring, is that something that they can then take care of on their own, or should you really see somebody?

Travis: Most of the time, when you do have a strain or a pull, you can actually take care of that on your own. You can take care of that at home, as long as you know what you're doing and know your exercises.

And really, the biggest guiding principle through rehab with a strained or a pulled hamstring, it's going to be listen to your body. Listen to those pain levels and don't push through any kind of pain, because that is essentially your body trying to tell you, "Hey, we're trying to heal this area, and you are making it worse for us." And so you're just going to prolong your recovery and prolong your rehabilitation process by pushing through pain.

Interviewer: So if somebody has already pulled or strained a hamstring, and they've seen a professional, and they have some stretches or some exercises, and this feels much like the last time, then they could just get those exercises and stretches and proceed as normal.

If it's a first-time situation, would you really recommend going to see a physical therapist or an athletic trainer to get those exercises and stretches?

Travis: I would recommend for the first-time patients to go and get those exercises and stretches, a little bit of guidance, because sometimes those exercises, to a person, might seem a little tricky. They might seem complicated. And when patients run into that, even unknowingly, they can sort of get this noncompliance with their rehab program. It can be frustrating when you don't know exactly what you're doing.

And so when you're doing things appropriately and correctly, it's going to feel a lot better, and you're going to feel like you're actually making progress with this, and then you're not just going to maybe quit, because it's like, "Oh, man, it's not getting better. The pain is continuing."

So, yes, I would definitely recommend for those first-time people that maybe don't even know if it is a hamstring strain and maybe they're struggling trying to determine if that is what's going on, definitely go get it checked out by the right professional.

Interviewer: And those exercises and stretches, does that actually speed up the healing time?

Travis: Yes. By actually completing rehabilitation, so exercise, stretches, and using some modalities and these things you can find at home, such as ice, heat, different things like that, it is going to accelerate your healing process.

And most importantly, if you are an athlete or maybe just a recreational athlete, you will need to complete some exercises in order to build strength back in your hamstring, get the same length back in your hamstring that you had previously. Because there will be scar tissue formation from the injury, and that scar tissue formation is not only going to affect our range of motion, it's also going to affect the muscle strength and the sort of force production that our muscle is able to generate. And so, by doing rehab and exercises, you are going to return back to the level that you were previously before your injury.

Interviewer: So doing nothing, just resting, not necessarily the best idea.

Travis: No, not necessarily the best idea. Will it get better? Yes, it totally will. Will it return to the same level of function prior to your injury? Most likely not if you're just hanging out and sort of resting, and that's all you do in order to heal it.

Interviewer: And then if somebody has already been in and they pulled or strained it, and they have implemented the exercises and the stretches, how long does it generally take if you're being good about that and icing and heat to recover?

Travis: So the recovery process for a strained/pulled hamstring is quite varying, honestly. And that is probably one of the most debated things in research when it comes to pulled hamstrings and things like that. Specifically, when we're looking at athletes, there's the return-to-play timeline. It can range, honestly. And research has shown it can range from 7 to 50-plus days.

And so it really depends on the progress of the individual person. Everyone heals differently. As well as sort of the initial injury. Was it a Grade 1 hamstring strain? Was it a Grade 2 hamstring strain? And then it also all depends on sort of the level of athletics or the level of sort of recreational stuff that you're trying to get back to. That can sort of determine your return-to-play timeline, if you will.

Interviewer: And if somebody wants to have their hamstring pull looked at, the walk-in clinic at University of Utah Health would be a great option. If that's not an option, just any physical therapist or athletic trainer, would they be able to help with a hamstring pull like this?

Travis: Yes, definitely. And I know there are a lot of physical therapists that you can schedule appointments with, go see, get this checked out. And so, yes, this is definitely something that getting in to somebody, in my opinion, especially for the general population, it's only going to accelerate your healing process and your recovery time and getting back into those activities that you actually love doing.