How to Prevent and Heal Hamstring Strain

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Last week I wrote about forward bends and flexibility in yoga. Sometimes, if you do this movement with too much ambition, you can overstretch your hamstrings. A pulled hamstring, also called hamstring strain, is one of the most common yoga injuries, maybe you’ve experienced one already.

What is hamstring strain?

Hamstring strain is what happens when you over-strecth your hamstring muscle. The hamstrings are a group of three muscles on the back of your thigh which travel from the sit-bone to the tibia, right below the knee. When you contract the hamstrings they extend the hip (move your leg backwards) and when you bend forward they stretch. When you strais a muscle, the fascia that wraps the individual muscle fibers tears and the muscle is temporarily injured. Soemtimes, this injury can occur in the adductors as well, these are located on the inside of your thigh.

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Preventing is better than treating.

To prevent an injury of any kind it is important to learn how to listen to your own body and be fully present. Sometimes our ambition will tempt us to push our limits. This is what happened to me. I wanted to bring my chest to the floor in Upavista Konasana, I was sooo close! I held onto my feet and pulled myself forward forcefully. Ouch! Right away I noticed a flash of pain traveling from my right sitbone to the inside of my knee. During the following days my leg hurt when walking, sitting and even lying in bed at night. 

Another factor that can contribute to a pulled hamstring is a sudden shift in temperature. Our muscle tone is affected by the temperature of our environment. Those of you who have a regular practice know it’s not the same to practice in summer than in winter. Especially if the yoga room isn’t well heated. In summer, our body warms up right away and it is way more supple while in winter the cold contracts our muscles and makes them tighter. Our flexibility is of course affected and that’s why it’s important to warm the body well at the start of practice and to be careful when traveling from summer to winter.

trikonasanaphoto: arianne

How to practice yoga with a pulled hamstring.

In the days following the injury, if your leg hurts when walking and sitting maybe it’s best to rest and apply RICE (rest, ice compression and elevation) or at least ice at regular intervals. You’ll see that the cold will alleviate the inflamation. A few days later, when the pain has lessened, you can return to your practice and begin the healing process. 

Too much rest keeps the muscle short and taught, while movement and some gentle stretching helps the recovery process. It’s important that you don’t feel pain in any posture and that you learn to modify your practice according to how you feel. You’ll notice that relatively easy postures, like Trikonasana will have to be adapted. When injured, less is more: stop before anything hurts. Remember that each time you re-injure yourself you are slowing down your recovery.

Even though a hamstring pull is not a serious injury, it takes a log time to heal, aproximately three months on average. It took me just this long to recover all of my flexibility after the first time I pulled my hamstring. Then, I suffered the same injury again. I recently found out that it is common to re-injure oneself in the same place, maybe because the tissue is weakened? I’m not sure. This second time the recovery was slower and I know I have to be careful.

What alternative therapies help in healing?

You already know that I’m a Rolfer and that I love this type of bodywork. It has helped me a lot because it releases adhesions and also helps to bring the body back into balance. Every time we hurt ourselves, our body takes on a compensatory posture to protect the wounded part. Once the tissues are healed, Rolfing re-establishes balance throughout the whole body and releases the muscles that are holding excessive tension.

This article was written by
Julia Zatta

Julia is a yoga anatomy teacher and bodyworker based in Barcelona, Spain.

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