What we’ll cover
Hamstring injuries in AFL
Hamstring strains or tears are the most common sporting injury experienced in AFL football and have a high recurrence rate when not rehabilitated properly. With local football clubs returning to preseason in recent weeks, now is a great time to talk about hamstring strains and what we can do to help prevent them from occurring.
What are the hamstrings and what is their role?
We have three different hamstring muscles that are positioned at the back of our thighs, originating from the ischial tuberosity (sit bone) on the pelvis and attaching over the back of our knee joint. The hamstring muscles act to achieve both extension of the hip as well as flexion/ bending of the knee. Any time you are walking, running or jumping your hamstrings are hard at work. In walking and running, the hamstrings work are largely as an antagonist to the quadriceps and control the deceleration of the knee.
What are the risk factors for sustaining a hamstring injury?
- Poor/ inadequate warm up – performing an inadequate warm up predisposes to hamstring injury as the body is not properly prepared/ activated for the upcoming sporting demands.
- Previous hamstring strain – those who have previously injured a hamstring are more prone to recurrence due to poor rehabilitation.
- Poor hamstring flexibility – If your muscles have poor flexibility they may not be able to bear the full force of some sporting demands.
- Sports participation – sports involving sprinting and rapid changes of direction, as well as other sports such as dancing that require extreme muscle stretching make hamstring strains more common.
- Muscular imbalances – It is believed that an imbalance between your quadriceps and hamstring muscle strength may increase your likelihood of hamstring injury.
What can we do to help prevent hamstring strains?
Completing a hamstring focused strengthening program has shown to reduce the rate of hamstring injuries by up to 70% as well as helping you to perform at a higher level. Rehab exercises will largely focus on improving the strength and length of your hamstring muscles, but may also include strength/ stability training of the lower spine, hips, knees and even ankles.
Due to the hamstrings unique role in decelerating the lower limb to prepare and position the leg for ground contact during running/ sprinting activities, it is important that we train our hamstring strength in a similar way. Eccentric hamstring exercises are specific to the function of the muscle during these types of activities as they help to strengthen the muscle as it lengthens throughout its range of motion. Some examples of eccentric hamstring exercises are shown below.
What should you do if you strain your hamstring muscle?
Acute hamstring management consists of the RICER principles: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, Referral. It is important to seek a physiotherapist assessment soon after injury in order to help minimise time spent on the sidelines and ensure you complete a full rehabilitation program to reduce your risk of recurrence. A physiotherapist will be able to assess the extent of your injury, help determine any underlying predisposing factors, commence a rehabilitation/ graduated strengthening program and assist you with your return to sport journey.