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Hamstring strains can almost completely be avoided by always following a stretching routine before exercise and sports.

The hamstring is a large muscle on the back of the thigh. The hamstring muscle works to bend the knee and to straighten the hip joint. Your hamstrings are important in a normal walking gait, running, jumping and other active uses of the legs. A strain is a slight tear in the muscle tissue due to excessive pulling on the muscle.

Causes
Hamstring strains occur commonly in athletes who haven't stretched out well before playing a sport, or who have a tendency toward tight hamstring muscles. Even a mild strain of the hamstring can be quite painful, especially if you bend over at your waist to touch your toes.

Symptoms
A hamstring strain is often felt as a pain in the back of the thigh, usually beginning immediately after the injury. Pain and swelling are commonly present, varying in severity depending on the extent of the injury. Pain is normally more severe when bending down or touching the toes.

A less severe strain may show only a small amount of bruising. More severe strains (called Grade III tears), which involve a complete tear of the muscle tissue can bruise heavily, be very painful and can usually be felt through the skin as a depression in the muscle tissue.

Diagnosis
Your doctor can detect a hamstring strain by examining the back of your thigh and by asking some questions about the history of the condition.

Treatment
Rest, ice and elevation are recommended to help reduce pain and inflammation.

  • Rest . All activities that require active use of the hamstring muscle should be restricted. Talk with your doctor about a plan for gradually returning to full activity.
  • Ice . Ice packs may be used for 15 - 20 minutes at a time every 3 to 4 hours to help alleviate pain.
  • Compression . Your doctor may recommend that you use a soft elastic bandage to help reduce swelling and pressure at the area of injury.
  • Elevation . Elevating the leg may help reduce swelling and ease pain and inflammation. This can be done by placing a pillow or rolled towel beneath the knee.
  • Medication . Your doctor may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication for pain relief.
  • Crutches . The use of crutches takes tension off the muscle and will help reduce pain.

Your doctor or physical therapist may also recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help in your recovery.

Prevention
The best way to prevent hamstring strain is to stretch fully before exercise, and to warm up slowly before a strenuous workout.