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Hamstring injuries in AFL football

Published: 04 April 2018 - Injury Treatment and Prevention

Hamstring tear

Hamstring tears, or strains (a strain is simply a small tear), are the most common injury sustained in the world of AFL football. In reality, they are equally prevalant in other high-speed running sports - 85 per cent of all hamstring injuries occur during high-speed running.

What are the hamstrings and what do they do?

Our hamstrings sit at the back of our legs behind the thigh and consist of three muscles: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. The hamstrings extend from our pelvis to the bones of our lower legs and support the body to bend at the knees and move at the hips. Anytime you walk, climb stairs, run, or jump, your hamstrings are hard at work. Learn how to minimise injuries when running.

In football and other fast-moving sports, the hamstrings also help us control the swing of our legs forward, for example, how far forward the leg swings when kicking a football. 

Why do hamstrings tear?

How many times have you seen your favourite footy player streaming towards goal, and as they kick with all their might for the goal posts they immediately grab the back of their thigh, fall to the ground and call for a trainer. It can be a heartbreaking moment.

So, what causes a person's hamstring to tear?

There are a range of predisposing factors for hamstring injury:

  • Inadequate warm up
  • Excessive muscle tightness
  • Muscle fatigue/overuse/inadequate recovery
  • Muscle imbalances - typically poor strength of gluteal muscles and/or the hamstrings themsleves
  • Previous injury - unresovled scar tissue from a previous Hamstring tear
  • Faulty technique/biomechanics
  • Spinal dysfunction (including poor core stability)

Hamstring healing time

Most people tear one of their hamstring muscles in the belly (middle) of the muscle. In the AFL, a player will often only miss three to four weeks. From the extensive research done in this area, we now know that most hamstring tears are preventable. It is not just a consequence of old age, or because you have done one before (as we used to believe).  

Hamstring avulsion has a longer recovery time

In severe cases, we've seen footballers tear their hamstring off the bone (think Matthew Lloyd, Nick Reiwoldt, Josh Gibson, and Daniel Kerr). This is called hamstring avulsion. 

While uncommon (studies have placed it at less than four per cent of all hamstring injuries) hamstring origin avulsion occurs when one of the hamstring tendons is torn from the bone up in the buttock and must be surgically repaired. This injury takes much longer to rehabilitate with players spending up to four months on the sidelines. 

Further reading: Signs you have a corky

Further reading: How can hamstring tendinopathy be prevented?

Hamstring muscle tear

How do you fix a hamstring tear?

Once a tear has occurred the acute management of it is critical if you are going to minimise your time on the sidelines.

As soon as the injury occurs, apply the C.R.I.E. principals (Compression, Rest, Ice, Elevation), and get into see a physiotherapist to begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible. The sooner you are assessed and begin treatment, the sooner you will be back to doing what you love to do.  

More importantly, your physio should be able to identify which predisposing factors contributed to your injury. They will then help you put strategies, including a rehabilitation program, in place to correct these factors to significantly reduce your risk of further injury.

One of the late stage strengthening approaches in the use of Nordic Curls, (see below) as research has now clearly shown that having greater eccentric hamstring strength (irrespective of your age) can signicantly mitigate your risk of future hamstring injury.

Nordic Hamstring Exercise

So if you have sustained a Hamstring tear that needs to be rehabiliated, or would like a Nordic Curl strengthening regime designed for you to reduce your risk of future Hamstring injury, then why not book a consultation with one of our expert physiotherapists? Find your local Back In Motion and book your Free Initial Assessment.

Author

Adrian Quinn (B.Physio) - Practice Director, Back In Motion Camberwell