Hamstring strains are among the most common injuries (and reinjuries) in athletes. Studies combining electromyography with gait analysis have elucidated the timing of activity of the three muscles of the hamstring group; they function during the early-stance phase for knee support, during the late-stance phase for propulsion, and during midswing to control the momentum of the leg. Muscle injury, whether partial or complete, occurs at the myotendinous junction, where force is concentrated. The healing response begins with inflammation, associated edema, and localized hemorrhage. After an initial period of reduced tension, the healing muscle regains strength rapidly as long as reinjury does not occur. Although the use of anti-inflammatory medication is a keystone of treatment, a certain degree of inflammation is necessary for removing necrotic muscle fibers and rescaffolding to allow optimal recovery. The protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation is still the preferred first-aid approach. After a brief period of immobilization (usually less than 1 week for even the most severe strain), mobilization is begun to properly align the regenerating muscle fibers and limit the extent of connective tissue fibrosis. Concurrent pain-free stretching and strengthening exercises (beginning with isometrics and progressing to isotonics and isokinetics) are essential to regain flexibility and prevent further injury and inflammation. Readiness for return to competition can be assessed by isokinetic testing to confirm that muscle-strength imbalances have been corrected, the hamstring-quadriceps ratio is 50% to 60%, and the strength of the injured leg has been restored to within 10% of that of the unaffected leg. The only indication for surgery is a complete rupture at or near the origin from the ischial tuberosity or distally at its insertion (either soft-tissue avulsion with a large defect or bone avulsion with displacement by 2 cm).
Dr. Clanton is Professor and Chairman, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Texas Medical School, Houston, and Team Physician, Rice University, Houston. Dr. Coupe is Clinical Instructor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Texas Medical School, Houston, and Assistant Team Physician, Rice University.
Reprint requests: Dr. Clanton, Suite 350, 2500 Fondren, Houston, TX 77063.