How many times are we going to see an athlete suffer from recurrent hamstring strains? How many times are we going to see delayed recovery from a mild hamstring pull? Unfortunately, it’s going to continue, because some health and wellness specialists (ATCs, PTs, and Strength coaches) are looking in the wrong area. Sometime ago I had a disagreement with the parent of an athlete (the parent also happened to be a chiropractor).
The parent was upset that I was not fixing the hamstring in rehabilitation. He said, ‘She needs flexibility and strengthening of the hamstring! You are not doing that!’ The concerned parent actually complained to my athletic director. Now I have my boss challenging me on my treatment. Ugh, such is the life of an Athletic Trainer. Thankfully, after conversation, he backed me up.
Now, before I swarmed by an angry mobs of chiropractors trying to beat me with sticks, this is not about chiropractors – this is just one example of the trap that many health care practitioners – Athletic Trainers, PTs, OTs, RKTs, DC, MD, LMTs, etc – fall in to. Many practitioners are too concerned with ‘the what‘ rather than ‘the how‘ and ‘the why‘.
This particular parent was upset and did not understand why I was not addressing the what. In my defense, I was dedicating some time to fixing the what – using ultrasound, massage, PROM, etc – to facilitate proper tissue healing. However, I knew this would not fix the problem. In this particular instance (and most hamstring injuries) I needed to correct human movement dysfunction (poor neuromuscular recruitment, suboptimal arthrokinematics, and altered length-tension relationships). This will fix the problem and go a long way in prevention of re-injury. Flexibility and strengthening of the hamstring is not needed.
Don’t get me wrong, flexibility is a good thing, but hamstring flexibility is way overrated. Take yoga as an example, yoga is known for improving flexibility (among other things). In fact, I’ve prescribed yoga to many of my clients. Unfortunately, many yoga poses place the already lengthened hamstrings under further stretch. Hamstring strains are very common in Yoga enthusiasts, especially amateurs. It is so common, it was given a name – Yoga Butt. Yoga butt is essentially a tear of the proximal hamstrings, subsequent to repetitive lengthening of the hamstrings. There is a reason for this.
Secondary, to pattern overload or prolonged static posturing many individuals suffer from chronic hypertonicity and mechanical shortening of the psoas. A chronically tight psoas will cause altered reciprocal inhibition of its functional antagonist, the gluteus maximus. With this muscle imbalance an abnormal force coupling occurs yielding poor arthrokinematics in the form of an anterior pelvic tilt. Because of the hamstring’s proximal attachment to the ischial tuberosity an anterior pelvic tilt will cause the hamstring to migrate superiorly and posteriorly, essentially lengthening the muscle. If you recall from your applied kinesiology course, muscles have optimal length tension relationships – a zone where maximal muscle force can be produced. The longer or shorter a muscle is, the less the muscular force can be applied or tolerated.
In addition to this, with the glute inactivity caused by altered reciprocal inhibition. So now a synergistic muscle must help with glutes ability to perform hip extension. Which muscle is going to this? You guessed it – the hamstring. This is called synergistic dominance – the hamstring (synergist) must dominate the movement of hip extension.
If you recall from above, the hamstrings are working in a lengthened and suboptimal position. Coupled with this it is being asked to do more work. So, when we are applying the greatest amount of muscular tension – eccentric contraction near end ROM (such as sprinting) – the hamstring fails. Commonly it fails near the proximal attachment secondary to a line of pull change.
Why do we see so many hamstring injuries? Because health and wellness professionals are not identifying or intervening to correct human movement dysfunctional patterns.
Why do we see so many recurrent hamstring injuries? Because we are not fixing what needs to be fixed and allowing the hamstring to work inefficiently.
Why are we seeing delayed recovery? Because we are using antiquated rehabilitation techniques. We are focusing on the hamstring when the problem exists elsewhere.
Correcting movement dysfunction and optimizing function will fix the problem. This is so much easier in the long run. Recently there has been a slew of research published discussing the effectiveness of high-intensity eccentric hamstring strengthening on the prevention and rehabilitation of hamstring injuries. Yes, eccentric hamstring exercises work, but why? They work because you are making the hamstring more tolerable and able to function with poor mechanics. Again, this is not fixing the problem. To fix the problem you must address glute weakness and hip flexor tonicity.