The muscles that run down the back of our thighs, originating from the sitting bone and flanking the back of the knee, are known as the hamstrings. Like all muscles, they don't simply start from point A and attach to point B as illustrated in many books but spiral down the back of the leg. The significance of this, is that in order to get the best out of your hamstring stretches, you need to stretch in a number of different ways.
People who can barely touch their toes or who sit for long periods of time tend to be at risk. Tight, short muscles are under greater tension. Another factor is muscle imbalance. Many runners' quadriceps overpower their hamstrings, which sets them up for injury.
If the pain comes on suddenly and the area bruises, you may have a true 'muscle pull' and you'll need extended rest – months – before you can run again. If it's a less severe, chronic overuse injury, you can usually run, but it'll take some time before you're back in the green zone.
It may be helpful to use a foam roller to alleviate tightness before and after a run. In chronic cases, active release technique (ART), a type of soft tissue therapy that helps relieve tight muscles, and deep-tissue massage may be necessary.
- While standing, take a step back with your right foot and then sit back into the right hip. Now bring the toes of your left foot up and reach forward with both hands as if receiving a gift. Continue to sit back into the right hip whilst gently turning the trunk to the right and to the left a couple of times. Gently reach upwards and downwards a couple of times and then with the arms still outstretched, tip side to side. Stand back up straight and rest. Now repeat by stepping back with the left foot.
- Go down into a semi-kneeling position with the right foot forward. Put a pad under left knee for comfort. Sink the pelvis down and forward to stretch out the front of the left thigh. Repeat a couple of times. Then stretch down to touch on the inside of the right foot and then reach up to the ceiling. Now continue the stretch, rotating the trunk left and right. Repeat with the left foot forward.
- Stay in the same position but now take the right leg out straight to stretch the hamstrings. Again, explore different movements reaching forward towards your toes and then reach up. Reach side to side and with rotation through your trunk. To tweak the stretch even more successfully, roll the foot inwards and continue to explore trunk movements reaching forwards and from side to side.
Regular dynamic stretching before running, such as old-fashioned running drills including "high knees" "butt kicks" and running with a skip step. For example, take a look at this You Tube clip – https://youtu.be/AW1RNkryf1k
I would suggest you return to running very gradually. Try running on different terrain, for example grass, and continue to do a variety of runs at different speeds and different gradients. At the same time keep these variations modest. If you are used to running steady 5Ks I wouldn't suggest you do short 50-metre sprints but rather try injecting a change to pace within your 5K run.
If you keep suffering from hamstring issues it is probably time to consult someone for advice. It may be that your lower back or pelvis is influencing the problems and these need to be checked out by a professional.
Stop: Sharp, sudden, strong pain and possibly even a snap or pop sound while running. The area is bruised.
With Caution: Chronic achiness and tightness that forces you to slow your pace and shorten your stride.
Go Run: Pain-free while climbing hills and doing speedwork, even after long periods of sitting.