Staying in the Game: Warm up properly, drink water and avoid that pull

This is an article that Dr Lynch wrote for his column “Staying in the Game”, for the Portland Press Herald on April 8th, 2010. We hope you find it informative. If you are suffering from a hamstring pull or other issues, you can contact Dr Lynch from the info on this contact page.

You’re just out of work, jump in your car and rush to the ball field for a softball game after sitting or standing most of the day. You are looking forward to getting exercise and competing with friends.

You get to the field and play catch to warm up your arm and shoulder, take a few practice swings and then the game begins. You are at bat, hit the ball, dash to first base and it happens: You hear a pop and feel a burning pain in the back of your leg.

You just pulled a hamstring and the game is over for you. Now what?

Such an injury happens frequently to weekend warriors, as well as elite athletes.

The hamstring is the large muscle that runs from the bottom of your buttocks to the back of your knee. Its purpose is to bend the knee backward at the hip.

This muscle is used for propulsion, and allows you to run and sprint. Any sport that requires explosive acceleration such as football, baseball and track and field exposes the hamstring to injury. There’s less risk of injury to distance runners.

A local football coach called me about his running back who had a hamstring injury and asked if I would see him. The young man wasn’t able to play and came to the office with his father. The pain started in practice.

An examination revealed tenderness to the belly of the muscle. A straight leg test revealed his hamstrings to be very tight and short. His right sacroiliac joint was limited on motion, which altered his gait.

Our treatment consisted of manipulation to the pelvis to restore the motion to the sacroiliac and his gait. Deep massage and ultrasound were applied to relieve congestion and increase circulation in the muscle. Dynamic stretching on the hamstrings was performed and we showed his father how to do this for him at home.

We instructed him to get heat, massage and stretching from the school trainer. After several days, he was making significant progress and was allowed to start running easy at first. Within 10 days he was back on the football field.

Whether it’s a high school athlete or a weekend warrior, it is imperative to take care of this muscle. The most important method to prevent a hamstring injury is to warm up correctly. Start with a light jog for 5 to 10 minutes. You also need to be properly hydrated, so drink plenty of fluids while exercising, especially on hot, humid days.

A sedentary lifestyle with prolonged sitting and standing weakens and shortens the muscle. I often recommend yoga to my patients. It is an excellent form of exercise that can gently stretch and strengthen not only the muscles and joints in your legs, but most muscles and joints in your body.

If you do pull your hamstring, I always recommend ice and a compress to reduce swelling and bleeding. See a health care professional for further advice and guidance. This will speed your recovery.