June 15, 2018

Hamstring strains: Symptoms and treatment options

Sports Injury

This post is part of The Ultimate Guide to Sports Medicine

A pulled hamstring is a common injury among athletes especially for those who participate in sports that require running at high speed. A hamstring strain or pulled hamstring is an injury to the muscles in the back of the thigh.


The hamstring muscles are located in the back of the thigh. Beginning below the pelvis, the hamstring muscles cross the knee joint and end at the lower leg. The muscles help extend your leg straight back and bend your knee.

A strained hamstring can be a pull, a partial tear or a complete tear. The strains usually occur in the think, central part of the muscle or where the muscle fibers join tendon fibers.

Hamstring strains are graded according to severity

  • Grade 1 (pull): Mild, usually heals quickly
  • Grade 2 (partial tear): Moderate, heals over a longer period of time
  • Grade 3 (complete tear): Severe, may take months to heal

In extremely severe hamstring injuries, the tendons may tear completely away from the bone and even pull bone with it, also referred to as an avulsion injury.


  • Muscle suddenly takes on too much weight
  • Muscle stretched beyond its ability

Risk Factors

  • Muscle imbalance
  • Poor conditioning
  • Muscle tightness
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Runners and sprinters
  • Dancers
  • Growing children

Symptoms of a hamstring strain

  • Sudden sharp pain in the back of the thigh
  • Swelling
  • Bruising or discoloration on the back of your leg
  • Weakness in hamstring

Physician examination

To determine whether you have a hamstring strain, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, ask questions about your pain and how long you have been experiencing your symptoms, and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or MRI may be necessary to rule out other injuries.

Make an appointment with an OrthoIndy sports medicine specialist


Typically treatment for a hamstring strain is non-surgical and includes:

  • Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation (RICE)
  • Activity modification or immobilization: Such as avoiding activities that worsen symptoms
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
  • Home exercises to strengthen muscles
  • Physical therapy to increase hamstring strength and flexibility

If the muscle is completely torn, surgery may be necessary to return to normal movement. Particularly, the proximal avulsion injuries, if severe, may require surgery.  The orthopedic surgeon will determine if surgery is indicated. However, even in severe hamstring strains, non-surgical methods have proven successful in returning a patient to their normal lifestyle.


  • Avoid the activity that caused your injury for up to two weeks
  • Condition muscles with exercise
  • Warm up before exercise or sports activity
  • Wear appropriate protective gear
  • Cool down after exercise or sports activity
  • If you feel pain, stop immediate and let muscles heal completely before returning to sports

Learn more about sports medicine treatment at OrthoIndy.

Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000
Megan Golden

By Megan Golden

Megan Golden worked at OrthoIndy from 2012 to 2019, where she wrote a variety of content for our blog, magazines and inbound campaigns. Megan graduated from Ball State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising and communications studies minor.

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