Hamstring trouble when playing kicking sports can really affect your season. You might feel like you are running with the hand-break on, can’t sprint 100%, have stretched and stretched and stretched your hamstrings but they still feel tight no matter what you do.
Hamstring pain can be caused by an actual tear in the hamstring.
There will be bruising, pinpoint pain and muscle weakness at the site of the tear. There is a recovery time of 2-6 weeks to heal and regain strength, depending on the severity of the tear.
Another reason for hamstring pain can be a tightness caused by irritation of the nerve system.
All nerves are interconnected, starting from your brain, connecting to your spinal cord, the nerves running down the back of your legs and to your toes. Nerves are designed to tolerate some glide within this pathway.
If you have a stiff back, some of the natural nerve system glide is restricted.
So needing to move into a posture like kicking, soloing or picking up the ball often feels like the hamstrings are ‘tight’.
‘Slump Nerve Test’ Physiotherapists use it to assess nerve sensitivity; Hamstring pain will be reproduced when the nerves are irritated.
Kicking is a similar movement to the ‘slump nerve test’ so can then cause hamstring pain when there is already nerve tension from a stiff back.
Logically if your hamstrings feel tight you want to stretch them and indeed muscles contract, relax and are able to be stretched. However, the hamstring tightness feeling might have nothing to do with your muscles AND you can inadvertently be further irritating your nerves by trying to stretch.
Nerve Tensioning Stretch is often performed as a hamstring stretch. This stretch preferentially tensions the nerves. If hamstring tightness is due to nerve irritation, this stretch will further irritate the nerves – making the hamstring feel tight despite all the stretching.
Hamstring Stretch to isolate the muscle, you must flex the hip first and then straighten the knee.
Sometimes when striding out in a sprint or kicking a long ball there will be hamstring pain, but there is no tear. This pain is usually caused by a protective hamstring muscle spasm where the spasm is preventing your body from stretching an irritated nerve too far. In this case there is no tear, so there is no healing needed. Treat the back, stop irritating the nerve and you can get back on the pitch.
So how can you tell if hamstring tightness is caused by back stiffness and nerve irritation or your hamstrings themselves?
At Active Solutions Physiotherapy we are able to diagnose your pain and guide your return to sport.