Common Injury Plagues Muscle Group
A hamstring pull is one of those non-discriminating injuries that affect professional athletes and weekend warriors alike, without prejudice. It can be triggered by any sudden and forceful movement: Kicking a soccer ball; lunging forward while skiing; jumping up to make a slam-dunk in the driveway. One patient explained that he’d been running on a slippery surface when suddenly the sole of his shoe found traction. The resulting conflict— body moving forward, foot stuck in place— put just enough strain on the hamstring that he felt a pop! and down he went.
There is a famous image of Mickey Mantle writhing in agony at first base. While lunging to beat a throw, Mantle sustained a grade 3 tear to his hamstrings. Some lament that the great Mantle was never the same after that. (Others point out that his poor conditioning probably led to the injury.)
One concern for athletes and coaches is the possibility of recurrence. A subsequent injury to the same muscle group before it’s completely healed can be even more devastating. That’s why it’s important to give your hamstring all the time it needs to recover— with a little help from us, of course.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The hamstrings are actually a group of three muscles in the back of the thigh. The hamstrings are instrumental (with the quads) in running, jumping and squatting. They enable us to bend or flex the knee, and they also play a role in hip extension. Sedentary people, in fact, may have weak hamstrings and never know it. On the other hand, injuries to one or more of the hamstrings are ubiquitous in soccer, football and track as well as other sports.
Maybe the quintessential sign of a hamstring injury is when an athlete grabs at the back of his thigh. Afterward, he or she may describe a searing pain. However, a hamstring injury can also come on more gradually, as an ache that worsens with activity.
The keys to recovery are severity and rehab. The injury may vary from a minor strain to a complete tear. The more strenuous your sport, the more likely you are to sustain a rupture. While there are situations that call for surgery, most hamstring pulls are treated conservatively, with rest, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve swelling, compression, ice and immobilization. Crutches may be called for, in some cases.
PRP Speeds Healing
One tool that we’ve found helpful is PRP injections. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is a technique that uses a patient’s own blood to accelerate the healing process. It’s been used for years in the surgical suite, and now it’s being applied to sports injuries.
Blood consists of plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets that are involved in the healing process. A PRP procedure takes some of the patient’s blood and spins it to separate these platelets from the remainder of the mix. The platelets are then injected into the site of the injury. (Some compare it— very loosely— to fuel injection in a motor.) Platelets contain stem cells, called growth factors, that are important for repairing muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone tissue. The risk of rejection or infection is almost zero because PRP uses the athlete’s own blood.
Quite a few professional athletes report success in returning to their sport after PRP treatment, including Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez and Hines Ward. PRP has been used for knee injuries, chronic bursitis, rotator cuffs and hamstring injuries.
This is not to say that you’ll be back on the field tomorrow if you’ve just suffered a hamstring pull. The injured muscles still need time to completely heal. How much time? That’s the $64,000 question. It depends, my friends, on the exact nature of the injury. We’ll get you started on treatment and a rehab program, and let your pain and rate of healing be our guide.