How to Prevent Hamstring Strains

February 10, 2010 | by Dr. Jess

Example of overstriding

Example of overstriding

We see hamstring strains in the office quite often in runners, soccer players, track and field, and rugby players. Unfortunately, hamstring strains are one of the most reoccurring injuries we see. I thought it was time to inform the athletic community which biomechanical dysfunctions can cause hamstring strains so they can hopefully prehab and prevent injury. What do hamstrings do? The hamstrings play a very large eccentric role. (Eccentric contractions occur when a muscle is lengthening and contracting at the same time. Storing of kinetic energy and controlling properties occur during eccentric contractions.) With attachments on either side of the knee and on the sit bone, the hamstrings have to function in all 3 planes of movement or in 3 dimensions. Here's a list of the hamstring's purpose in movement:
  • Deceleration of the trunk from moving forward or deceleration of anterior pelvic tilt/shear.
  • Deceleration of the lower leg (tibia) in knee extension just before heel strike.
  • At heel strike, deceleration of the tibia and knee from falling too far forward over the ankle.
  • Deceleration of pronation of the tibia and ankle.
  • Acceleration of the leg in extension to toe-off.
  • Assisting in femoral control during cutting movements.
  • Assisting in knee flexion during the swing phase of gait.
  • Pick up the slack when other muscles aren't doing their jobs.
What are biomechanical factors contributing to hamstring strains? In addition to just pure weak and fatigued hamstrings, we have found these dysfunctions associated with hamstring strains:
  • Poor core stability including lumbopelvic control and abdominal strength.  The hamstrings and ab muscles help control the pelvis as your foot strikes the ground and your body needs to the absorb impact.
  • Hyperlordosis and anterior pelvic tilting.  The hamstrings can become overstretched while they are trying to contract to control anterior pelvic movement and absorb impact forces if the pelvis is already too far in an anterior  pelvic tilt.  Also, if the pelvis is in an anterior pelvic tilt just prior to heel strike, the hamstrings can also become overstretched trying to decelerate the tibia in knee extension.
  • Tight hip flexors can cause an anterior pelvic tilt as well as reciprocally inhibit the hip extensor such as the Gluteus Maximus, thus requiring more work from the hamstrings while overstretched to extend the hip.
  • Weak Glutes, as stated above, can cause the hamstrings to be overloaded concentrically during hip extension as well as set the hamstrings up for failure by not participating in a neutral pelvic tilt.
  • The Latissiums Dorsi are part of the posterior sling and have fascial connections into the opposite hamstrings via the Glutes and Dorsal Sacral/Sacrotuberous ligaments.  Should the Latissimus Dorsi be tight, this could pull on the hamstrings, restricting proper movement and lengthening.
  • Poor femoral control at heel strike and mid-stance due to tight hip flexors and hip external rotators as well as weak gluteus muscles and hip rotators.  Tight or weak Gastrocnemius (calf muscle) can cause a hamstring to be overworked.
  • Poor dorsiflexion (toe-up) of the opposite ankle.  This can cause the opposite leg to overstride, again, overstretching the hamstring while it's trying to contract to control movement.
So what can we do to prevent injury?
  • Keep the hip flexors lengthened and supple.
  • Strengthen the hamstrings WITH Glute and calf muscles.  Hamstrings don't operate alone.
  • Strengthen and stretch the hamstrings in 3 dimensions.
  • Keep the calves supple and strong.
  • Work on core strength to maintain a neutral posture as well as help stabilize the lumbopelvic complex.
  • Strengthen the Glutes and external hip rotators to control femoral torsion.
  • Strengthen the arch of the foot to help control pronation of the tibia.
  • Work on maintaining neutral spine and neutral pelvis.
  • Work on increasing dorsiflexion of the ankles and rehab any previous ankle sprains.
Dr. Jess and Mike at Innersport have several hamstring prehab programs to eliminate biomechanical dysfunctions and thus help prevent hamstring strains.  We have two options to help you with your hamstrings: 1-  Video analysis of your running gait and biomechanical analysis of several dynamic movements to identify and diagnose the weak links and restricted movements followed by exercise instruction to correct dysfunction.  You get to keep the CD of your running gait.  This is performed by Dr. Jess at Innersport. 2-  Online personal training option.  Mike will review several movements and your training needs and then will set up a workout program for you.  You will receive the workout via email with exercise instructions and videos of all exercises. To make an appointment, feel free to email us at info@innersport.com or click here to schedule online.
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