Chris Samba rushes to block the cross into the penalty area as the opponents attack grows fierce, his co defender then makes a sweeping clearance sending the ball out of danger zone, the next thing we see is Chris clutching the back of his right thigh with a firm grimace as he limps and falls to the ground. A quick glance at the bench shows his coach with a worried look, substitution is inevitable but Chris is so vital to his defense….oh it’s a hamstring injury…not again.
Football supporters and fans all around the world are familiar with the term ‘hamstring injury’. For some it simply means our star player will be out of action for only God knows when, to others it means more games lost or at best drawn, some even wonder why some players need surgery and others just a little rest and rehabilitation. So join me as we take a closer look at this so familiar sports injury, and for your information it is not isolated to footballers alone, athletes, basketballers and other sportsmen are also prone to it.
Hamstrings are the posterior thigh muscles, guess that is a clue. ’Ham’ from the old English word for thigh ‘Hamm’ and ‘strings’ refers to the cords you can feel just behind your knee, their tendons. Three powerful muscles comprise this group and are responsible for bending the knee and moving the thigh backwards at the hip. These actions may seem simple but are extremely important to the sports especially those involving sprinting, or sudden fast acceleration and action.
Let’s now take a look at the symptoms of hamstring injuries and you’ll be surprised to find out that maybe just maybe you have experienced it before, so welcome to the club! Injuries vary in their severity and the hamstrings are no different with symptoms varying from a mild strain to a tendon rupture, or complete muscular tear.
- A sharp pain at the back of the thigh during exercise, usually during sprinting causing you to stop
- Pain on stretching your leg or when bending forwards
- Swelling or bruise at the back of the thigh
- If it is a tear within the muscle, a gap may be felt.
I am sure quite a number of us have felt that sharp pain at one time or the other as we engaged in various sporting activities. Now let’s look briefly at the grading of hamstring injuries, they are graded into three groups basically.
Grade 1: Tightness at the back of the thigh, may be able to walk normally but is aware of pain, there is also minimal swelling.
Grade 2: Walking stance is affected and there are occasional twinges of pain during activity, swelling may also be noticeable. Application of pressure increases pain and the athlete would find it practically unable to straighten the knee.
Grade 3: Severe pain and gross limitation of movement requiring the use of walking aids such as clutches but if on the pitch of play, will be stretchered off.
So here we are with this hamstring injury, what do we do? It is said that the first 48 hours after the injury are the most vital if full function is to be regained, so before waiting for a sports injury specialist, here is what should be done- am sure you have seen it on TV too, it is not to show off! It is a simple protocol called R.I.C.E, means Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate. It is a simple technique with proven benefit.
Rest the injured limb, take a break from the activity that caused the strain and avoid putting weight on that leg. Ice cold packs are applied for about 20 minutes at several times of the day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Compression bandages preferably elastic ones are used to prevent additional swelling and blood loss. Finally Elevation to reduce swelling, recline and place the leg higher above the rest of the body. That is R.I.C.E! Now we can invite the sports injury specialist to continue the management. It is also good to note that in severe injury, treatment may involve surgery and other tests may be required such as x-rays and scans.
As the popular statement goes ‘prevention is better than cure’. One of the most important and scientifically proven methods of prevention is correct warm-up. Are you surprised? Don’t be. Warm-up should consist of some light aerobics followed by stretching exercises and sports specific drills with gradually increasing intensity. It helps to tone up the muscles and increase their response and adaptability to tension. What puts one at risk of pulling a hamstring? An all important factor is the fitness state because when a player is tired, there is less control and coordination which can cause a mismatch of muscle contraction and relaxation. A previous injury also increases the likelihood of sustaining another one. Age too, because it comes with an increased tendency of injury.
In the past, a knight in battle was able to disarm an opponent with a swift slash to the back of the thigh. It is also recorded that cruel slave masters would deliberately injure the hamstrings of their domestic slaves to make their escape less likely! Well thank God those days are past and will never return.
So sports fans, enthusiasts, and you my reader, live a healthy life, eat right, sleep too and exercise of course! And when next you hear the phrase ‘oh it’s a hamstring injury’ or ‘he pulled a hamstring’, sit back, smile and ask the next person “do you know what that is?” If the answer is no, then share what you have just discovered.