Stiff muscles after a workout aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If you feel a little stiff and achy the day after a good run, it’s probably completely normal.
But when your muscles are used to the exercise and you’re still feeling pain after a workout, it may be worth looking deeper into the cause.
If you often suffer from sore hamstrings after running, it could be a sign of a muscle imbalance. The key is to nail down why your hamstring pain isn’t going away and then treat it accordingly.
Here’s all you need to know about hamstring pain, as well as 15 handy ways to relieve sore hamstrings after running!
What Do The Hamstrings Do?
Your hamstrings have several functions, but their primary purpose is to flex the knee joint and extend the hip.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles—the semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris—that are responsible for your hip and knee movements when you run, walk, climb, or squat.
They help stabilize you when you lean forward and reduce your risk of injury by assisting the extension of your hip when you sit or get up.
In running, your hamstrings play a vital role in propelling you forward with each stride, bending the knee following toe-off, preparing the leg for the recovery phase, and helping slow you down.
Strong hamstrings create an accelerating force during the push-off stage, which contributes to running faster.
What Causes Sore Hamstrings?
While you can expect to have tight or sore hamstrings when you get back from a run, it should disappear in a day or two. But, if you’re starting to experience hamstring pain after every run, then you may want to dive a little deeper.
Sometimes you just need to make minor adjustments to your running form or training program. In other cases, you may need to work on your flexibility or muscle strength.
To help you, let’s have a look at the most common reasons that running causes sore hamstrings.
DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
It’s common for runners to have muscles that feel sore, tender to the touch, and stiff after a run.
Runners will begin to experience Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness—DOMS—within the first day or two after a run.
DOMS is caused by the high intensity of your workout creating micro-tears in your muscles. This leads to inflammation, as your body responds and starts the healing process.
As your body adapts, becoming fitter and stronger, you’ll experience DOMS less often. However, changes to your runs like running faster, longer, or tackling hills can increase the intensity of your run, leading to DOMS.
To reduce your risk of DOMS, plan your runs so that you’re increasing your speed and distance by at most, 5 to 10 percent each week.
Running hills can’t be avoided, but if you’re not running 15 miles a week regularly, then you should try to avoid running hills if possible.
Once you are running 15 miles a week, you can include running a hill for the first week or two. Look for a stretch of road that has a long hill—one-quarter to a half-mile in length—with an incline and incorporate that into your route.
Sudden Mileage Increase
It’s not the mileage that you’re running that increases your risk of injury and leads to sore hamstrings. It’s taking on too much too quickly by increasing how long or fast you run that places excessive strain on the muscles.
This sudden increase leads to sore hamstrings and increases your risk of developing a hamstring injury.
The golden rule in running is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent every week!
If you ran 5 miles this week, then you’ll run 5.5 miles the next week. If you’ve been sick or you’ve just recovered from an injury, then keep the following in mind:
- If you’re off for a week, then you can pick up your training where you left off
- If it’s been 2 weeks—or 10 days—then start at 70 percent of where you left off
- If you haven’t run in a month, start at 60 percent of your mileage before you stopped
In some cases, runners can take up to a 4 month break and the golden rule here would be to start from scratch. This will reduce the risk of overloading your muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Try to run 3 days a week, making sure that you warm up properly, have plenty of rest, or cross-train on days between each run.
Too Much Speedwork
If you want to run faster, you need to introduce speedwork gradually, allowing your body to adapt and build up to a faster pace. By increasing your speed too quickly, you’re increasing your risk for a hamstring injury.
So how do you know when you’re ready to incorporate speedwork into your run?
You must be running consistently—have a solid running base—first. If you can comfortably run 3 miles and you’re not feeling overly fatigued or sore, then you can look at adding speedwork to your routine.
You’ll also need to work on your strides—also known as accelerations—where you’ll do quick bursts of running at a controlled effort. This will help improve your running efficiency as well.
Make sure that you follow the 80/20 rule. Speedwork should be only 20 percent of your overall mileage within your week. The remaining 80 percent of your runs should be easy aerobic runs.
You’ll also need to get plenty of rest days and include cross-training in your running program.
No Variation in Terrain
One of the best things about running is that you can do it anywhere! All you need is your best pair of running shoes and a road or a trail.
But, the surface you’re running on could be the reason why your hamstrings are sore after your run. For most runners, concrete and asphalt are the most common and easily accessible surfaces to run on.
If your running route is flat without any inclines, this can make you prone to hamstring soreness. You need to change your running route to include a variety of terrain, as the uneven surfaces can strengthen the muscles, correct muscle imbalances, and improve your agility.
There’s the added benefit of running on a surface like grass, cinders, trail running, or sand, as it significantly reduces the impact on the body. This lowers your risk of overuse injuries.
Injuries (i.e. Hamstring Strain)
Hamstring injuries are incredibly frustrating, as they can sideline you for several weeks!
In most cases, runners are pushing themselves too hard! Often you’re focused on your pace, how much distance is left to cover, your sense of effort, and in some cases, this can mean that you’re not paying attention to your pain cues.
If your hamstring is sore—mild pain only—before you start running, make sure to pay attention to it. If the pain gets worse as you run or causes you to alter your gait, then stop running and go see a doctor!
Depending on the severity of the injury, the recovery time could be between two and eight weeks. The best thing you can do for your hamstrings is rest until the pain is gone or your doctor clears you to run.
It’s important to speak to your doctor before running with an injured hamstring even if it’s just a dull ache, as acute hamstring injuries can rapidly become chronic injuries.
Tight Hip Flexors
If your hip flexors are tight this will cause your pelvis to tilt forwards—anterior tilt—and this will disrupt your kinetic chain.
You may not notice it at first but when your pelvis tilts forwards it affects everything from the shape of your spine, to causing your abdominal muscles to weaken, and affects your knees, ankles, and feet.
This can cause pain in other parts of your body like lower back pain, Sciatica, Gluteal, and knee pain.
To alleviate your tight hip flexors you can include the following stretches into your cool-down routine:
- Pigeon pose
- Kneeling hip flexor stretch
- Butterfly stretch
- Sitting stretch
Weak muscles or muscle imbalances can lead to sore hamstrings after running as they have to deal with the demand that activity places on them.
In most cases, quadriceps are the strongest muscles, while the gluteal muscles are the weakest and this places the load on the hamstrings.
Your hamstrings can easily become fatigued while running, especially if you’re running faster or uphill, and they become unable to cope with the stress of exercise.
Not only will this lead to strain, but your muscles will no longer effectively absorb energy or shock. This will place excessive strain on the bones, ligaments, and tendons which increases your risk of injury.
To strengthen weak muscles and correct any muscle imbalances between the quads and hamstrings, you’ll need to do strength training. Focus on exercises that work on strengthening your posterior chain like:
- Hamstring curls
How to Treat Sore Hamstrings
The best step you can take to treat sore hamstrings after running is to rest them. Giving your muscles a break from exercising will help them heal faster.
If you can, take a rest day. If you want to do something active, try to do an upper body workout that doesn’t involve the legs.
You can apply ice for 10 to 30 minutes, 3 to 5 times a day, until the pain is gone and the swelling has gone down. Make sure the ice is in a cloth and not directly against your skin.
Using compression on your hamstring can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. The compression also helps stimulate blood flow, which brings healing oxygen and nutrients to the painful area.
You can buy a thigh compression product or you can simply use an elastic bandage to wrap around your leg. It should be tight but not so tight that it cuts off your circulation or causes pain, numbness, or tingling.
Elevating your hamstrings can be difficult, but the best way is to lie on a bed or sofa and elevate your feet, in turn causing the hamstrings to elevate.
This can help drain fluid from the area, which is helpful if you have swelling along with your hamstring pain.
However, keep in mind that swelling may indicate a more serious injury that a doctor should assess.
5. Do Light Active Recovery
Active recovery technically means doing anything on your day off that isn’t your main sport. You may choose to go for a bike ride, take a swim, or go for a walk.
Instead of taking full rest days when your hamstrings are sore, try to do light active rest days. This will keep the blood flowing properly and help the pain go away faster.
Yoga or dynamic stretching can help raise heat in the body, which increases blood flow and brings oxygen-rich blood to the organs and tissues.
This helps the painful area heal faster. It also helps you stretch out the sore muscles gently and without overdoing it.
You can either get somebody to help massage your hamstrings, or you can do it yourself using a foam roller.
Firm pressure can trigger myofascial release, which leads to pain relief and the loosening of tight muscles.
8. Regular Exercise
The more you exercise, the less severe DOMS becomes. However, if you only exercise sporadically, you’re likely to feel the pain every time you work out.
You should avoid taking a break for longer than a week if you want to stay at your level of built-up pain tolerance!
9. Warm Up Properly
Warming up effectively helps improve circulation in the muscles, bringing oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to the muscles. This primes them for the exercise they’re about to endure.
Try to incorporate dynamic stretches instead of static stretches. You should warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before you start your run. Make sure you stretch the hamstrings effectively by touching your toes with straight legs and doing some yoga poses to loosen the muscles.
10. Shorten Your Stride
When you over-stride, your hamstrings work harder to try and stop your hips from overextending. This can place extra stress on the hamstrings and lead to pain.
Shortening your stride can help protect your hamstrings, but it can also improve your cadence and help you run faster!
You will need to work on your running form. Try to land on your midfoot, with your foot directly below your knee and not out in front of it.
It will require some work, but using the right running form can save you from becoming injured down the line.
11. Strength Training
Strength training is underrated and every runner should be incorporating strength training into their cross-training.
The gym is the best place to build muscle in your legs, especially to correct muscle imbalances that may exist between your hamstrings and your quads.
Work on strengthening your hamstrings and your glutes. Strengthening your glutes means they can take the load off your hamstrings when you run or do other exercises.
When you exercise these muscle groups, work on your mind-muscle connection so you can understand how to actively engage these muscles.
The following exercises will help strengthen your hamstrings:
- Deadlifts—regular and Romanian deadlifts
- Hamstring curls
- Glute bridges
- Step ups
Make sure that you’re doing every exercise with proper form. Using improper form will make you more prone to injuring yourself in the gym.
12. Avoid Long Periods of Inactivity
It can be easy to let hours fly by without realizing that you haven’t even moved away from your screen!
An easy way to avoid the hamstrings stiffening up is to make sure you take regular “walk breaks”.
The hamstrings help extend your hip when you stand up, so if you stay seated for too long, that movement can cause pain when you finally get up again.
By staying on top of your movement, you can avoid that happening by keeping the hamstring stretched and in use.
13. Don’t Forget to Cool Down
Cooling down by taking a slow run, walking, or doing some dynamic stretching can help give your heart rate time to come down and it helps flush the metabolic waste from your muscles.
The less build-up of metabolic waste—specifically lactic acid—there is in the muscles, the less pain you’re likely to feel the next day.
14. Use Topical NSAID Creams or Gels
NSAID creams or gels can have an analgesic effect on a sore hamstring. One of the bonuses of using this kind of pain relief is that it includes a massage element, which can help improve circulation and relieve tension in the muscles.
Make sure to test the cream or gel on a small patch of skin before lathering it all over your hamstrings!
15. Take Painkillers
While taking non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory pain medications does help reduce the pain in your hamstrings, your lowered sense of pain can lead to you further injuring your hamstring as you overexert yourself.
We recommend only taking painkillers if your pain is too great for you to fall asleep at night or if nothing else is working. In this case, we suggest seeing your doctor.