Since starting a new page in my career at Evolutio, I’ve had the honour of attending a mid-season footy training night at Richmond Central Football Club. My role there is to assess any injuries that the athletes are carrying and clear them for return to sport, advise them to rest or to seek further management.
In my previous life, I’ve done a lot of sports training in the form of footy, indoor netball and various fun runs; but never as a physio who was responsible for assessment.
My first thoughts at RCFC were:
The familiar smell of Metsal, grippo and sweat. Yum.
The challenges of trying to tape over body hair.
The overwhelming number of hamstring injuries! This comprised of over 50% of the injuries I saw that night.
So, what are hamstrings?
The hammy is a group of muscles in the back of the thigh (duh!) which consist of the semimembranosis, semi tendinosis and biceps femoris.
Okay, but what exactly do they do?
When doing isolated movements, such as at the gym, the hammy bends the knee and extends the hip.
Moving onto the more functional side of things… During sports, like footy, the hammy is in charge of stopping ballistic movements. It does a powerful and sudden contraction at the end of a large footy kick or at the end of swinging your leg forward during each stride of a sprint.
How do they get injured?
You know what they say; there are a hundred ways to skin a cat…
Pretty much everyone will be familiar with strains in one form or another. Strains are tears in the muscle fibre which occur when moving something that is too heavy. Muscles are at a greater risk of strains when they are already fatigued.
Firstly, let’s look at that kick. Something has to stop that leg from rocketing into outer space. In this position, the hamstring is in its most stretched out position and at a disadvantage to produce power. Do this a few dozen times in an intense match and you’re bound to feel its effects.
Moving on to sprinting; similar story here. Your hammy isn’t going to be as stretched out but instead of a few dozen kicks, you are striding hundreds of steps in a match or at training.
Moving on: How to prevent hamstrains
Warm up, warm up, warm up. I’m a huge fan of dynamic warm ups. They get your muscles moving in the full range and synchronises your motor neurons to work together like a well rehearsed orchestra.
Slowly build up the intensity of your warm up by adding light drills. In footy, this might be jogging or light kicks. Build up towards running and medium kicks followed by sprints and large kicks. Before you know it, you’re training at full intensity.
Cool downs are important, too. Don’t just go from full blast workouts and drills to suddenly not moving. Keep those muscles moving by walking around or jumping on a low resistance bike.
Stretching can help but I generally reserve this to only while the muscle is warm so straight after exercise is best.
Between training and matches
Keep those hamstrings strong. Remember I mentioned that strains are at risk if they’re tired? If your hamstrings are strong, they will do every movement with less effort. Hit the gym to do some leg curls or deadlifts to name a couple of examples.
Practice makes perfect. If you’re not good at running, get good at running. If you’re no good at kicking, get good at kicking. If you can do these things consistently each time in a stress free environment, you’re less likely to stuff it up on game day.
Strains can occur in varying degrees. So depending on how severe it is, it can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks before you’re back to sports.
Typical management of strains involves RICE initially, massage and heat then gradual return to sport. If the symptoms of the strain are persistent or recurring, it’s not a bad idea to get it looked at by someone at Evolutio to get you back quicker and better than before.