Hamstring injury

Last revised by Joachim Feger on 9 Dec 2022

Hamstring injuries are the most common muscle injury, and are very common in athletes and can cause a significant loss of playing time depending on the sport. 

Amongst professional athletes, hamstring injuries are reported to make up 15% of all injuries in Australian Football players and 12% of injuries among soccer players 1.

As with any muscle injury, the hamstrings can be injured at multiple possible points 1,4:

  • origin: ischial tuberosity avulsion injury

  • proximal free tendon

  • myotendinous junction (most common)

    • proximal more commonly injured than distal

    • biceps femoris most common hamstring muscle injured

  • epimysial/myofascial: most common in biceps femoris proximal to the fusion of the short and long heads

  • intramuscular (rare)

  • distal free tendon

Hamstring injuries can result from 1,4:

  • acute injury

    • type 1

      • eccentric contraction during high-speed running for limb deceleration in preparation for a foot strike

      • proximal myotendinous junction of biceps femoris most commonly injured

    • type 2

      • excessive lengthening of the hamstring (e.g. dancing, slide tackles, high kicking)

      • proximal free tendon of semimembranosus

  • chronic overuse

    • most commonly seen in runners (over all distances)

    • proximal hamstring origin tendinopathy, with semimembranosus, most commonly affected

Clinically, hamstring injuries can be graded as 2:

  • grade 1: no appreciable muscle tearing, <5% loss of function/strength

  • grade 2: damage to the musculotendinous junction (MTJ); reduced strength; some residual function

  • grade 3: complete tear of the myotendinous junction; loss function +/- a palpable gap

There are numerous imaging classification systems including:

There are no unique features of hamstring-specific injuries. Please see the general articles on muscle injury and tendon pathology for further details. 

Return to play is largely predicted by clinical assessment with a poor correlation between imaging-based grading systems and time to return to play 4. Prognostic factors affecting a longer rehabilitation and thus delayed return to play include 3,4:

  • proximal free tendon injury

  • proximity to the ischial tuberosity

  • ≥ grade 3 injury (i.e. grade 1 and 2 injuries are not associated with time to return to play) 4

The recurrence rate is ~20% (range 12-31%) and can occur within a short timeframe (e.g. 2 weeks) after return to play 1,3

Patients presenting with posterior thigh pain suspicious of a hamstring injury but have a negative MRI (so-called "MRI-negative hamstring injury") may have symptoms from 4:

  • lumbar spine referred pain

  • fascial injury

  • gluteal trigger points

ADVERTISEMENT: Supporters see fewer/no ads