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What are Partial Hamstring Tears?

The hamstring is a group of three muscles known as semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris that run along the back of the thigh from the hip to the knee and help you extend your hip and bend your knee. Partial hamstring tears occur when one or more of these muscles get overstretched, strained, or pulled. They are common in dancers and athletes of all sorts including runners and those who play football, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc.

Injuries to the hamstring can be graded as I, II, or III depending on the severity of the tears. In grade I, the muscle is mildly damaged and slightly stretched. In grade II, there is a partial or incomplete muscle tear. In grade III, there is a complete tear of the muscle into two halves. If untreated, partial hamstring tears may lead to prolonged and chronic pain in the thigh, and eventually result in permanent muscle dysfunction.

Causes of Partial Hamstring Tears

Some of the causes of partial hamstring tears include:

  • Poor conditioning or weak muscles
  • Muscle tightness or poor flexibility
  • Incomplete healing of prior hamstring injury 
  • Overtraining of hamstrings
  • Athletic injuries due to extreme stretching or overload
  • Muscle imbalance between two muscle groups (hamstring versus quadriceps)
  • Muscle fatigue or reduced energy-absorbing ability of the muscle, making them more prone to tears

Signs and Symptoms of Partial Hamstring Tears

Some of the signs and symptoms of partial hamstring tears include:

  • Sharp, sudden pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Weakness
  • Tenderness
  • A popping or tearing sensation
  • Inability to weight-bear
  • Limping

Diagnosis of Partial Hamstring Tears

In order to diagnose partial hamstring tears, your physician may perform a thorough physical examination in which the injured leg is maneuvered in a variety of positions to elicit symptoms of hamstring tears as well as look for signs of tenderness, bruising, and swelling along the back of the thigh. Imaging studies such as an MRI and ultrasound may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis. An MRI may be ordered to detect the degree of tear of hamstring muscle tissue. An ultrasound may be employed for detailed imaging of the hamstring muscle tissue and other surrounding structures.

Treatment for Partial Hamstring Tears

Most partial hamstring tears can be treated with non-surgical remedies such as:

  • RICE Therapy: The RICE regimen is effective for the treatment of most sports-associated injuries. RICE is an abbreviation for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
    • Rest: Complete rest to allow the hamstring injury to heal
    • Ice: Use of ice packs to reduce swelling and relieve pain
    • Compression: Wrapping the injured area with a compression bandage to minimize swelling
    • Elevation: Elevating the injured leg above the heart level to minimize swelling
  • Medications: Use pain-relieving medications and NSAIDs to help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: After the pain and swelling subside, your physician may recommend specific exercises to improve flexibility and strengthen hamstring muscles.
  • Activity modification: Avoid participating in activities that can strain hamstring muscles or cause hamstring pain.
  • Immobilization: Immobilize the injured leg with a knee splint to help heal the torn muscle.

Surgery

Surgical intervention is rarely required to treat partial hamstring tears. However, if non-surgical treatment options fail to relieve symptoms, hamstring surgery may be recommended in which your surgeon will fix the tear with sutures to resolve the problem. Following surgery, rehabilitation is usually recommended to improve strength and range of motion.

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