The weather is gorgeous, you’re out with some friends at a picnic, and someone breaks out the Frisbee. And you love Frisbee. You’re really good at Frisbee, especially those wacky catches where you spin and snatch the Frisbee between your legs or behind your back. You jump up from the picnic blanket, which you’ve been sitting uncomfortably on for the past hour, and you notice your foot has fallen asleep and your legs are both a little stiff. You decide to ignore this, though, as its just Frisbee, and your body will warm up eventually.
Everyone is taking it casually, but not you, because you know what you are capable of. You don’t excel at your office job, your car’s an old jalopy and your dating life is covered in moth balls. But this is Frisbee, and you are the king of Frisbee. The third throw to you is way out of reach.
For most people.
But not for you, you think, as you launch yourself full speed in its direction. Just as the Frisbee is about to hit the ground you dive, launching yourself headfirst into the grass and rescuing the discus before impact. You hold it up in the air. You are a hero.
But what was that popping sound? Did anybody else hear that? And why is your leg not moving? When you try extra hard to move it you notice a sharp increase in pain to the back of your leg. You lie there on the ground, helpless, because you know the one thing you’re good at won’t be an option for a while. You’ve just strained a hamstring.
Your hamstring muscles (so called because it’s where butchers would string up pigs, fyi) are a very common place for strains. On many people they are overworked and ischemic. On people with bad posture (hyperlordosis) they are overstretched and weak. It’s just plain hard to keep your hamstrings in good working order, and then any sudden overstretching or overexertion can lead to a tearing in the tissue.
Other factors that can lead to a strain include:
- Not warming up properly (see above).
- Limited flexibility (do some yoga).
- Overuse (too much yoga).
- Poor biomechanics (that’s not yoga).
If it’s a moderate to severe strain (more than just a pulled muscle) you’ll likely see the area bruise and swell up quite rapidly. The next step is RICE (rest, ice, compress and elevate) for the next few days, and then use the leg minimally for the next two weeks or so.
Two to three weeks in we enter the late subacute stage of healing, and this is where massage can greatly benefit the healing process. Your body likes to throw down massive amounts of scar tissue following injury, which is great for sealing up lesions, but terrible for maintaining range of motion. Our job is simple:
- Identify the lesion site via palpation and response from the client
- Work around the lesion site peripheral-central-peripheral.
- Cross-fiber-friction to the lesion site to ensure a nice, mobile scar following the healing process, allowing for full range of motion.
- Treat any compensating structures (the low back from vaulting, the other leg from being overworked, etc.)
Eventually recommend to your client that they talk to their doctor about beginning an exercise program to regain strength in the torn hamstring, likely beginning with isometric contractions, as you’re least likely to injure yourself during a contraction where the muscle stays the same length.
And next summer, try some dynamic stretches as a warm up before dinging across space and time to become your picnic’s Frisbee hero.