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FAQ: Hamstring Injuries

An older man stretching to avoid a hamstring injury.

Hamstring injuries plague professional athletes and weekend warriors alike.

Why is this muscle so delicate and how can you protect it?

"It's a complex muscle structure that tends to be injured across a wide variety of activities. It's one of the most common injuries we see."

To learn more about why hamstring strains and tears are among the most common exercise- and sports-related injuries, we spoke to Dr. Carlos Uquillas, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute.

Headshot for Carlos A. Uquillas, MD

Carlos A. Uquillas, MD

Guerin Children's

Carlos A. Uquillas, MD

Guerin Children's
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Guerin Children's
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Accepting New Patients

Q: Why are hamstring injuries so common?

Dr. Carlos Uquillas: The hamstring is a unique muscle because it crosses two joints: It starts above the hip and ends below the knee.

It's a complex muscle structure that tends to get injured during a wide variety of activities. It's one of the most common injuries we see.

The majority of hamstring injuries happen at the muscular-tendinous junction—where tendon is becoming muscle. The muscle is a little weaker at that spot, and we see a lot of patients with injuries at these specific points. 

Q: What exercises and sports most often lead to hamstring injuries?

CU: Usually sprinting or jumping causes hamstring strains. 

Also, sports that require a lot of jumping and sprinting tend to make the quadricep muscles really strong, and if the hamstring isn't strong enough to keep up with the quad, then injuries happen. 

Focusing on strengthening the hamstring helps the muscle absorb more of the load of sports and other exercise activities.

Another problem is abnormal stress on the hamstring. Water skiers often get hamstring strains because their knees are straight and their hips are flexed forward, which puts the maximum amount of stress on the hamstring.

Q: What's the typical recovery time for hamstring injuries?

CU: The severity of a hamstring injury can vary greatly depending on a lot of factors.

  • Minor hamstring strains, which we call grade 1, will typically take 1-2 weeks to heal.
  • Higher-grade strains could take months to heal. The big worry is that you can reinjure the hamstring fairly often, especially if you go back to exercise/sports too soon.

The metric we use to determine when you can go back to exercising is strength in the hamstring muscle. If you're at 90% strength in the hamstring, then you're ready for activity. 

Q: What about the more serious hamstring injuries?

CU: Though not as common, the hamstring injury that is more catastrophic is when the hamstring pulls off from the hip bone. When this happens, the hamstring can become retracted if left untreated, so we tend to fix that with surgery. 

When this devastating injury happens to kids, the hamstring may take pieces of bone with it, causing a fracture at the insertion of the hamstring.

Q: How can we best prevent hamstring injuries?

CU: Stretching and properly warming up before being active are important. 

Also, make sure to use proper footwork because balance is key to protecting the hamstring.

Like I mentioned earlier, strengthening the hamstring is crucial for people who already have strong muscles surrounding the hamstring. The stronger the muscle, the less likely it is to be injured.