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How Runners Should Manage Hamstring Pain

Every runner deals with pain differently. Some try to push through it, while others immediately take a break. Still others will make a doctor’s appointment to make sure the pain isn’t anything to worry about.

But there are still ways and means of handling pain that are effective and can help to alleviate it, allowing you to run without stress.

Hamstring pain can be one of the worst kinds of pain to run with. Here’s how runners should manage hamstring pain so it can heal easily and they can get back on the road or trail as soon as possible.

Where Are Your Hamstrings?

Your hamstrings are made up of three muscles that run down the back of your thigh. These three are known as:

  • Biceps femoris
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus

The hamstring muscles attach to the back of your pelvis at the ischial tuberosity, which is just below your buttocks.

They then cross over the knee joint and end at the lower leg. Thick, strong tendons connect the hamstrings to the points where they attach to bone.

Your hamstrings have a number of functions, but the main ones are to bend your knee, extend your leg, and reduce the stress on the knee joint when you walk, run, or jump.

The hamstrings also assist with the extension of the hip when you sit, get up, or perform squats. Your hamstrings also help you to maintain good posture as you do these movements and help to reduce your risk of injury.

Why Do My Hamstrings Hurt?

Your hamstrings may hurt after a run if you overstride. In other words, instead of your foot landing underneath you, it lands too far in front of you. This will cause your hamstrings to overcompensate with each stride, leading to pain and soreness.

You may also experience hamstring pain if your glutes and hips are too tight or weak, as this will shift the load to your hamstrings. If left untreated, this can lead to you developing chronic tightness of your hamstrings.

Sudden changes to your mileage or increasing your speed or hill work too quickly can place your hamstrings under excessive strain.

Your pelvis may be pulled forward because your quads are too tight, placing excessive strain on the hamstrings, which then tighten up. This can lead to an overuse injury of the hamstring.

The repetitive motion of running, especially if you only run on flat paths or a treadmill, can cause your hamstrings to tighten while you’re running. This can microtears in the hamstrings, which leads to pain.

Hamstrings can become over-stretched if your training or running form isn’t good, and you will then experience pain.

What Causes a Hamstring Injury?

Hamstring injuries commonly occur when the muscles are stretched too far or suddenly overloaded.

You may overload and hurt your hamstring by coming to a sudden stop or start, if your leg is fully extended before your foot hits the ground, or if you’re not very flexible.

Is It Ok to Run With Hamstring Pain?

If the pain is mild, you can try to continue running at a slower pace than normal. With that being said, if the pain level increases during your run, then you should stop immediately.

You can also take an easy run if you can walk normally and only experience mild pain in certain positions. But pay attention to how your legs feel during and after the run.

If the intensity of the pain increases after your run, then look at reducing the mileage and intensity of your runs. In most cases, runners find that going for an easy jog can ease the symptoms of hamstring pain, due to the increased blood flow.

Hamstrings can take time and be tricky to heal, so it’s best to run at slower paces. You should avoid speedwork and hills until your hamstrings have healed. When you do go for a gentle run, wear a compression wrap to support your hamstrings.

If the pain in your hamstring is severe or you find that your hamstrings are causing you to alter your gait, then you should stop running for a while.

You should only return to your previous level of activity when you can move your affected leg without pain and as well as your healthy leg.

Gradually increase the intensity and mileage of your runs when you have zero pain when you walk, jog, or sprint. You can resume your previous level of activity when you can jump without experiencing any pain.

Over 60 percent of runners will continue to strain and injure the hamstrings within a year. The best way to avoid re-injury is to include long-term strength exercises into your routine.

By strengthening your hamstrings, glutes, hips, and core you’ll be able to prevent future strains and maintain your training levels.

Ways to Relieve and Manage Sore Hamstrings

Ice

Ice your hamstring as soon as you can after your run. This will help reduce inflammation and swelling. It will also help to alleviate the pain in the hamstring.

Apply ice to your hamstring for 10 to 20 minutes 2 to 4 times a day.

Make sure that you don’t ice the hamstring for longer than 20 minutes, as the body can suffer from a lack of blood flow to the injured area. This can then cause your body to react in the opposite way and widen the blood vessels.

Roll the Quads, Hamstrings, and Hip Flexors

Foam rolling is a great technique to improve blood flow in a particular muscle and lower inflammation. If you have tight, painful hamstrings, foam rolling may help to loosen them, ease pain, and speed up recovery.

You should spend 10 to 15 minutes foam rolling your hamstrings after a workout. This can be immediately after a workout or later, but it will have the best effect if you do it before the muscles start to stiffen.

You may even find that the muscles don’t stiffen up at all because you foam-rolled them soon after your workout.

Strengthen the Hamstrings

Hamstrings can often be neglected in strength training workouts, with the quads and glutes getting more action. However, if you want to manage hamstring pain and prevent it from happening often, you should add more hamstring exercises to your training.

Exercises like the Romanian deadlift, single-legged glute bridges, eccentric hamstring curls, and Nordic curls will help to build strength in your 3 hamstring muscles.

Strengthen Your Entire Core

The core is underrated when it comes to running, but having a strong core is the foundation for good full-body strength. Also, a strong core helps to stabilize the pelvis, which in turn affects the hamstrings—or can be affected by the hamstrings.

Don’t neglect core training in your cross-training. Runners should be doing at least two core sessions per week in order to build a firm, strong strength foundation.

Improve Your Running Technique

One of the ways hamstrings can become injured is by overstriding. If you feel that this may be contributing to your hamstring injury, you may need to look at improving your form.

One of the best ways to start working on your form is to work with a coach. They will be able to watch you run and even video you running, so you can physically see the elements of your stride that could be improved.

Then, you will know exactly what needs to be changed in order to alleviate pressure on the hamstrings.

Implementing form cues can help you run taller and straighter, improve your cadence, and land your foot in the right position on each step.

You will need to make sure you land with your foot underneath you and not out in front of you. Also, your running posture needs to be tall and not hunched over.

Compression

You can wear a thigh compression sleeve after your run to stimulate oxygen-rich blood flow through the hamstrings and keep the muscles warm. This will help the muscle to heal faster. The compression will also provide some pain relief.

You can wear compression garments while running, to help hold the muscle in place, alleviate jarring, and reduce pain.

Cardio Workout Alternatives

Avoid any form of cardio or strength work that causes pain in your hamstring. If you don’t want to miss out on a workout, you can choose an alternative form of exercise to get your heart rate up without aggravating your injury.

Cycling and swimming are both low-impact forms of cardio that are great for recovery. If cycling hurts your hamstring too much, try swimming. Jumping rope could also be a good choice.

How to Prevent a Hamstring Injury

Hamstring injuries can become a chronic problem if they aren’t treated properly and if you don’t allow them enough time to heal before getting back into sports. It’s best to take steps to prevent injuring your hamstrings.

Hamstring Strength Training

Strength training is an important part of preventing injury across the whole body. If you can build muscle and strengthen your hamstrings and the surrounding muscles, the chances of you developing a hamstring injury will be reduced.

Add hamstring exercises to your strength training, or start doing strength training if you aren’t already. You should split it evenly between upper and lower body, but make sure to include hamstring, quad, glutes, and calf exercises in your leg days.

Dynamic Warm-Ups

Before you start doing any kind of training—whether it’s heavy strength training or lighter resistance band workouts—you should make sure to warm your muscles up properly by doing dynamic warm-ups.

Spend at least 5 to 10 minutes doing a dynamic stretching warm-up routine to get the blood flowing to your muscles. Doing a short glute-activation warm-up will help to get the lower body ready for harder exercise.

Recovery Exercises

All you need for hamstring recovery exercises are some small, looped resistance bands and a stability ball.

Rather than overloading the recovering muscles with heavy weights, these allow for them to work against resistance with much less chance of overdoing it.

Here are some light but effective exercises you can do to start strengthening your hamstrings while recovering.

We have also included some core, hip, and glute exercises to strengthen the surrounding muscles.

Hamstrings

Try these exercises to strengthen your hamstring muscles without adding extra weight to them:

  • Hamstring Rollouts/Curls with the stability ball
  • Nordic Curls Eccentric (down only)
  • Hamstring Floor Slides (use a towel)

Core

A strong core is essential for runners. It provides stability throughout the body and can help to prevent overloading of other muscles.

  • Ball Crunches
  • Planks
  • Dead Bug

Hips & Glutes

Often, hamstring injuries can be worsened by weak hip flexors or inactive glutes. Add these exercises to your routine to strengthen your glutes and hips:

  • Glute Bridges
  • Single Leg Glute Bridges
  • Resistance Band Squat
  • Resistance Band Lunges
  • Standing Glute Kickbacks
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