// Disclaimer: I'm not a health professional, I'm just telling what worked for me. If you wanna try it, you're acting at your own risk and I strongly recommend asking a doctor before! This article does not substitute proper medical treatment! //
Hamstrings strains are pretty common among athletes, dancers and acrobats of all kinds. Mostly it's one of these scenarios: You stretch too far, without an adequate warmup, in a cold room or you just overuse the muscle. Especially fast, explosive movements without control such as ballistic stretches are risky.
I had a nice oversplit on both sides years ago, until I strained the inner hamstring tendon* doing a high leg kick while hula hooping - without having done an adequate warmup before. To cure it,
I had to pause a long time. I also tried to preserve the injured leg by compensating with the other one - until I got a strain there too, from overusage. So I had to stop stretching both legs and
lost my splits. I waited, waited, ... and tried to continue stretching... too early. Several times.
Again I had to pause and went to the doctor who was helpless - so I focused on other things and didn't train my splits. Until I got the idea to visit an osteopath. He tortured me several times (in a constructive way^^), I did MANY fascia exercises and my legs finally got better. There are still some ups and downs regarding splits, but as soon as I started to warm up rigorously before each training, use castor oil and do fascia exercises about once a week, I finally got steady splits again.
Such an epic effort behind a single pose, you might think. But training aerial silks, I constantly need to invert which means to bend to the front which means using my hamstrings' flexibility all the time.
* Tendons are the connection between the muscle and the bone. The closer you feel the pain near one of the muscle's attachment points, the higher the chance, that you strained your tendon! Tendons strains are worse than muscle strains:They have a limited blood supply, therefore receive less nutrients than muscles and require more time to heal.
In which positions do we stretch our hamstrings?
The so-called hamstrings consist of three different muscles at the back of our thighs: Biceps Femoris (lateral hamstring), Semitendinosus and Semimembranosus (medial hamstrings).
They originate in the buttocks bone and lead to different spots below the knee joint.
Therefore a hamstring stretch does only happen when the leg is extended and your pelvic tilts to the front - which happens during any front bend, especially front splits (front leg), the middle split, straddle, pancake and high kicks to the front and the side.
Even in arabesque poses or when you're tying your shoes, you might feel a little stretch at the back of your thighs depending on your flexibility :-)
Hints to cure a strained muscle:
● Immediately after the strain: Rest the muscle, don't stretch it, apply ice, put the leg up, go see a doctor and a physio, maybe take some anti-inflammatory medicines - they didn't help me, but if the doctor advises you to take them, why not trying it out?
It's better to rest a few days too long than too short...
● Stretching: If you stretch a torn muscle during the acute phase, the tear can go worse. Just imagine stretching a fabric with a fracture, the fracture will likely get bigger! Nonetheless, most physio therapists recommend light stretches to avoid building up scar tissue. So the solution must be somewhere inbetween: Learn to listen to your body, stretch only as far as your body and your doctor allow and start with light stretches. Chances are that you didn't listen appropriately to your body before - hence relearn it and pay attention to the tiniest sensation. When to restart and how intensely to stretch depends highly on your body and the severety of your strain: There's no overall answer, but I'd wait at least a few days.
● Fascia treatments: To improve blood circulation and regeneration by stimulating the body's self-healing powers. This is a big chapter and you can search for specific tutorials on Youtube. But there are some basic rules:
Don't undergo fascia treatments and massages when your muscles are sore or your strain is acute because the repair process is already happening! Depending on where your strain is located and how big it is, you can use fascia rolls, balls or peanuts (duo balls) for a self massage. The harder the tool, the more effective is the treatment, the smaller the tool, the more intensely and focused it can affect a certain spot of your body.
Do small but intense movements with your full weight onto the tool and try to relax the muscle even if it hurts! When it stops hurting, treat another region. You can also put your weight on the fascia tool and move your leg so that the muscle action provides for a massage.
-> When and how long? - Before your training. The duration is a personal decision, I do about 3 minutes per muscle group / body region and in total at most 15 minutes once a week as a general regeneration application. If you're treating a strain, I'd suggest up to 3 times a week.
-> Your trigger point is rarely accessible? - Try to use fascia balls: My strain happened at the hamstring tendon, very close to the buttocks bone at the attachment of the muscle, so I put the ball on a hard yoga block, sat on the elevated ball and tried to relax the pain away. If you still think that your fascia treatment is not working, an osteopath might be the solution.
● Training: Build strength in your hamstrings and butt muscles as soon as the injury isn't acute anymore! For example neck bridges or cobra with back leg lifts. If you're into stretching, I'd incorporate more active stretches to strengthen the muscles in deep ranges, making these ranges safer and therefore avoiding a second strain.
People also report that working on backbends has helped them with hamstring strains: Maybe it's because backbending requires stretching your hip flexors! In a front split for example the hamstrings of your front leg and the hip flexors or your back leg are being stretched. What happens, if you layed your body down towards the front leg in your split? You would increase the hamstring stretch, putting it at risk to get pulled because of overstretching. The solution: Sit upright in your split or even bend back, shifting more weight to the back leg. Work on the no-handed split to improve balance, muscle coordination and strength. And work on squared splits, with an even pelvis which is not twisted. Work with a qualified stretching coach if you have no clue how to implement these hacks ;-)
● Remedies: I massage my muscles regularly with castor oil ahead of intense stretching sessions - it's anti-inflammatory. Of course there's also tons of vitamins and stuff you can take orally, for example some athletes take enzymes.
And I don´t think I need to mention that a healthy nutrition and lifestyle without smoking and with little alcohol is beneficial.
● Prevention: Warm up! Every time you're doing any sport, warm up gradually and prepare your body beforehand! No exeptions! I don't even do the tiniest hamstring stretch with cold muscles! The warmup should last at least ten minutes and contain mobility exercises, pulse raiser exercises and active stretches. This was the biggest game changer for my cure - and at the same time the hardest to implement into my daily training since I hate warming up ;-)
My major changes when working on flexibility: I often wear long leg sleeves to preserve the warmup's effect when interrupting my stretching routine. And I avoid getting into the full maximum of my hamstring flexibility and draw the line at an earlier stage = I don't force it!
I hope this article has helped you! I wish you a good recovery and don't forgot to tell me in the comments section what helped you to heal!
Do you need a flexibility coach? Contact me!