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6 questions answered about pulled hamstrings

Information provided on the blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or offer treatment plans.

1. What causes a pulled hamstring?

A “pulled” or strained muscle is usually caused by a sudden contraction of the muscle, which stretches the muscle fibers beyond what they normally can tolerate. Imagine guide wires supporting a pole. If the wind blows forcefully, the fibers in the wire may be stretched to the point where some of them tear.

2. If a pulled muscle is a partial tear, can it require surgery?

Usually in a partial tear, the body cells use the residual healthy tissue as a scaffold to reproduce healthy cells and heal. In a complete tear, that scaffold may be lost and frequently surgery is required to bring the fibers together to achieve healing.

3. Do pulled muscles occur on a spectrum? If so, what would be the difference between a severe pull and a normal pulled muscle?

In general, the severity of the tear is proportional to the number of muscle fibers that are damaged.

4. What can runners/people in general do to avoid pulled muscles?

Stretching is commonly recommended to prevent muscle strains, but there is only a small amount of scientific literature to support this position.

5. When it happens, are there actions I should take to immediately help the strain and prevent it from getting worse?

Fortunately, once a muscle is torn, it generally cannot be made worse because pain will prevent further injury. However, one should follow the basic “RICE” prescription to prevent further bleeding and inflammation, which can result in more pain and a delay in healing.

6. How long will it take for my pulled hamstring to heal?

An injury to muscle or tendon is called a “strain.” Fortunately, most strains are minor which is probably what you have. Still muscles and tendons take time to heal, just as if you cut yourself and the skin has to heal. But muscles take longer, generally about six weeks.

It is important to do stretching exercises to encourage the muscle tissue to heal normally. A long, slow duration stretch of the muscle is best. A sudden forceful stretch may re-injure the tissue.

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Steve Rochell, MD

Dr. Rochell is an orthopedic surgeon with 28 years of experience. Prior to his medical career, he was an Illinois state champion gymnast, winning the still ring competition in both 1966 and 1967. He continued gymnastics through his college career at Stanford, becoming an All-American.


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