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The hamstrings are by far the most commonly injured muscles in 100m sprinters, accounting for two-thirds of all injuries in this event. This shows that in maximal speed sprinting, the hamstring muscle group is close to its injury threshold.
Why are the hamstrings so frequently injured in football?
In sports played on big fields like soccer and Aussie Rules, players often have to run at maximum speed and so hamstring strains are always going to be a common injury in these sports. For this reason, rugby league and union wingers are also susceptible.
Why are hamstring strain recurrences so common and is it possible to play with a hamstring strain?
Although hamstring strains differ greatly in their severity, the ‘average' hamstring strain often requires about 4-6 weeks to fully repair, rather than the 2-3 weeks that most people think. Most players can come back before full repair by running with a slightly decreased stride length on the injured side. This compromises speed for protection against the injured hamstring. It is thought that players who are unable to alter their gait during this fragile recovery period are more prone to recurrent hamstring strains. Secondary nerve injury and entrapment is also theorised to be a risk factor for recurrent hamstring strains, although there is little scientific evidence for this explanation.
Can hamstring strains be prevented?
There is some evidence to suggest that by strengthening the hamstrings together with the quadriceps in equal amounts, strength imbalances between the two groups can be avoided and may in turn prevent future hamstring strains. Other strategies include avoidance of sprint training on fatigued muscles i.e. after resistance training.
World 200m champion pulled up with a hamstring strain before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. (Image sourced from The Australian)
Nick Riewoldt of St Kilda has suffered recurrent hamstring strains. (Image sourced from The Herald Sun)