The Olympics are in full swing and we’ve already seen a number of athletes get injured. While competing at the highest level, athletes have access to support staff, body workers, and doctors, but what about the rest of us? What should you do when you have an injured hamstring?
Today I’m focusing hamstring injuries, but the principles of soft tissue injuries can be applied to most any muscle in the body. While some injuries can be attributed to a freak accident (you fell, someone fell on you, landed wrong etc) they are often times the result of an accumulation of stress on the tissue and poor mechanics.
Many of us are the proud owners of hamstrings that are both weak and tight due to the 7+ hours a day we spend sitting. Our tissues will always adapt to the constant stressors placed upon them, and in this case, the myofascias (muscle cells and their fascias) become frozen in a permanent seat position from being stuck in the same shape hours a day. It’s not just sitting that is at fault, shoes with a heel, which is every shoe that doesn’t explicitly say it has a 0mm drop, can also contribute to more restricted hamstrings. When the hamstrings are stiff, they are less capable of being elastic when they need to be, which makes them more likely to be injured from being overstretched. Just like an unused rubber band gets dried out and crispy, your myofascias can become crispified when left unused for an extended period of time.
So what to do if your hamstring is injured? If you are seriously bruised, get yourself to a doctor to make sure everything’s ok. If you’re pretty tender, proceed with caution, but always call in the big guns if you’re in over your head. First of all, let it rest! Constantly stretching and pulling on tissues that are already over stretched does not help with healing. Compression, like with a Voodoo band, can help to clear the area of swelling, as the swelling is what often contributes to the pain and decreased range of motion. I do not recommend icing this, or any other soft tissue injury. Ice has not been proven to be effective and could, in fact, be impeding the healing process.
A more effective plan of attack is to keep feeding slack into the injured area by way of rolling the surrounding areas with therapy balls. While most people go right onto the injured area and start rolling, therapy balls are microstretchers, and are not advised after an overstretching injury. Instead, myofascial release on the buttocks, quads and feet can help to improve blood flow in the entire limb, which helps move fluids (both healing and swelling stuff) through the injured site. After an injury, your brain is creating a soft tissue cast by tightening up everything in the area to protect you from further injury. Addressing this protective tension in the perimeter can help soften this entire response and enhance the healing process.
Your hamstring injury was not the result of one wrong move – chances are it’s the buildup of stress and stiffness from a lifetime of sitting and shoe wearing. Also, most of us do not understand how to properly do a hip hinge, which is a more efficient way to initiate the movement to sit, stand and pick things up off the ground. A proper hip hinge requires your to move only from your hips, and not your spine. When you hip hinge, your glutes and hamstrings are strengthened and stretched as they were designed. A true hip hinge involves moving ONLY from the hips, without any change in your spine. Learning to use your hips to bend will alleviate additional stress on the low back. Check out the picture to see what it looks like and I encourage you to practice in front of a mirror.
All of these techniques will not only help hasten the healing process after an injury, but can help to keep injuries at bay! The best part is that maintaining the health of your body takes only a few minutes a day. Learning to move from your joints will help to strengthen your entire body and teach your body to move efficiently, which can help prevent muscle injuries.
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