A strain is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. This painful injury is also called a "pulled muscle."
If you have strained your hamstring, you have pulled one or more of the muscles on the back of your upper leg (thigh).
Pulled hamstring muscle
More about a hamstring strain
There are 3 levels of hamstring strains:
- Grade 1 -- mild muscle strain or pull
- Grade 2 -- partial muscle tear
- Grade 3 -- complete muscle tear
Recovery time depends on the grade of the injury. A minor grade 1 injury can heal in a few days, while a grade 3 injury could take much longer to heal or need surgery.
What to expect
You can expect swelling, tenderness, and pain after a hamstring strain. Walking may be painful.
To help your hamstring muscle heal, you may need:
- A knee splint for a short period of time
- Crutches if you cannot put any weight on your leg
- A special bandage wrapped around your thigh (compression bandage)
Symptoms, such as pain and soreness, may last:
- 2 to 5 days for a grade 1 injury
- Up to a few weeks or a month for grade 2 or 3 injuries
If the injury is very close to the buttock or knee or there is a lot of bruising:
- It may mean the hamstring was pulled off the bone.
- You will likely be referred to a sports medicine or bone (orthopedic) doctor.
- You may need surgery.
Follow these steps for the first few days or weeks after your injury:
- Rest -- Stop any physical activity that causes pain. Keep your leg as still as possible. You may need crutches when you have to move.
- Ice -- Put ice on your hamstring for about 20 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. Do not apply ice directly to your skin.
- Compression -- A compression bandage or wrap can reduce swelling and ease pain.
- Elevation -- When sitting, keep your leg raised slightly to reduce swelling.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
- Talk with your doctor before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
- Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your doctor.
Getting active again
When your pain has decreased enough, you can begin light stretching and light physical activity. Make sure your doctor knows.
Slowly increase your physical activity, such as walking. Follow the exercises your doctor gave you. As your hamstring heals and gets stronger, you can add more stretches and exercises.
Take care not to push yourself too hard or too fast. A hamstring strain can recur, or your hamstring may tear.
Talk to your doctor before returning to work or any physical activity. Returning to normal activity too early can cause re-injury.
Follow up with your doctor 1 to 2 weeks after your injury. Based on your injury, your doctor may want to see you more than once during the healing process.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if:
- You have sudden numbness or tingling
- You notice a sudden increase in pain or swelling
- Your injury does not seem to be healing as expected
Ali K, Leland JM. Hamstring strains and tears in the athlete. Clin Sports Med. April 2012;31(2):263-72. PMID: 22341016 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22341016.
Ferri FF. Managing your: hamstring strain. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2015. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:appendix V.
Vetter CS, Hoch AZ. Hamstrong strain. In: Frontera, WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2008:chap 59.
Update Date 5/15/2014
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.