My hamstring won't heal!
August 28, 2007 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I pulled my hamstring in June, right where the top of the ham hits the inner glute--not quite in the crotch but almost there. It wasn't bad, but I decided to take time off to let it heal. But no matter how much time I take off, as soon as I start working out again it starts hurting again! What do I do?

After pulling it in June, I took a month off. One medium-intensity capoeira class later and the pain is back. I take another three or four weeks off and begin working out again. And sure enough, after the end of a set of lunges during my fourth workout back my hamstring is hurting again!

Now I don't know whether this is a tear or a pull. It provides some discomfort when I'm sitting or walking around, but nothing terrible--though I have a high pain tolerance so that may be masking the injury. Icing isn't very effective because there's a lot of flesh between the ice and the actual injury. Does anyone have any recommendations for rehabilitation? This has ruined my entire workout schedule for the summer and I don't want this to continue into the fall as well.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (10 answers total)
You've tried using it twice but it hasn't healed on its own. I think it may be time to visit a physical therapist.

Also, capoeira and lunging seem like fairly strenuous ways to start out.
posted by grouse at 4:37 PM on August 28, 2007

I second grouse - you should seek a specialist.

But, from my experience, muscle tears take a long time to heal. I tore a forearm muscle, and it took about two months of not lifting anything with that arm heavier than a fork before it healed completely. In your case, the fact that you use the damaged muscle while walking may be exacerbating your injury. Wrapping the leg might help, but again, see a specialist for an explanation of how to do that properly.

Finally, when you do feel that your muscle is healing, I'd suggest taking it very easy with the workouts for a few weeks. Start with light weight, and see how your hamstring responds. If everything is OK, then gradually increase the weight. Oh, and make sure you stretch really well - before, during, and after your workout.
posted by epimorph at 4:50 PM on August 28, 2007

I pulled my hamstring running last year and for a long time I still had pain like you describe. I tried going to the physio but it didn't seem to do me a lot of good. No matter how long I waited to exercise, it still hurt when I started back up again. What seems to be working now is building up slowly, way more slowly than you think you need to. I've gone back to doing the Couch-to-5K plan (even though I was running farther than that before). I'm also careful to only work out every other day to give myself time to heal and adjust. So far, so good! I'm about six weeks into it and I haven't had any significant pain or stiffness. It's frustrating to have to take what seems like a step backwards in your fitness regime, but it's also gratifying to do *something* without hobbling afterwards.
posted by web-goddess at 4:51 PM on August 28, 2007

It's general wisdom, but I suppose it bears repeating: soft tissue injuries heal much more slowly than broken bones.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:28 PM on August 28, 2007

But no matter how much time I take off, as soon as I start working out again it starts hurting again!

It's trying to tell you something.

What do I do?

Learn to be gentle with yourself when that's what's required. Take more time off next time. If it hurts again after that, take even more time off the time after that. Keep increasing the amount of time you take off after it hurts, until it doesn't hurt any more.

You might want to start by taking about twice as long of a break as the longest break you've taken off so far; when you start up again, start with gentle stretches. Don't go to strong stretches until you can complete a full set of gentle ones without hurting afterwards, and don't do anything high-powered until you can complete a full set of strong stretches without hurting after that.

If you stress a half-healed injury, it's pretty easy to take it right back to Square 1. If you're repeatedly impatient, you might even get back to Square 1 Plus Additional Scarring, which is not somewhere you want to be.
posted by flabdablet at 6:15 PM on August 28, 2007

As has been said, it's probably best to see a physio.

However, if you want to avoid that and just see how things go, take it far, far easier. Lunges? Sounds like way too much stress on the muscle. I'd be doing gentle cycling on a static machine for a while, gently stretching it off, rinse, repeat, work up to more dynamic exercises. Probably a lot of gentle movement involving a dyna-band (massive rubber band) to gently work the muscle in a supported environment.

These things take time, and it's really frustrating. If you want it to heal quickly, see a physio. They'll probably use ultrasound or something (I forget exactly what it is - I had it for an ankle injury), along with a raft of gentle stretches and exercises which you should do exactly as they say, when they say. If you don't want to see a physio, take a lot more time. Warm up, stretch, light workout, stretch, ice. As it gets later on, you might also like to use a hot bath, as apparently it increases blood flow to the affected area, helping rehabilitation.

Just remember - it sucks, but it just takes time. There's no shortcut. Focus not on the workout time you're losing this fall, but on the time you're gaining in future, when you won't be constantly stopping due to a recurring injury, wishing you'd let it heal properly the first time.
posted by djgh at 10:19 PM on August 28, 2007

Yeah for chrissakes don't do lunges. Lunges put exactly that muscle under a great deal of strain under almost maximum extension. I would cross lunges off your list until you're well out of the woods.
When you do go back to working out, why don't you try swimming for a week or two and see how that goes?
posted by creasy boy at 1:00 AM on August 29, 2007

Definitely agreeing with everything people have already written here. You're going way too fast and hard - capoeira after only a month?

I'm currently doing PT for super-tight hamstrings and some right knee tendonitis, and it's made a huge difference - but it's neither fast nor painless.

Scale back on the exercises that stress that - don't do nothing, just be much much gentler. No lunges. Get a referral to a physical therapist or something.

Good luck. From the sound of it, you're ambitious and motivated. That's awesome. Just don't let it get you hurt.
posted by canine epigram at 6:02 AM on August 29, 2007

I'm in the same situation - except that I strained the hamstring March 2006, and all it took to get it sore this morning was 2.5 minutes on the stationery bike. As an authority on *not* healing from injuries, for the love of Pete: Stop using it.

When I injured the leg, I would try using it again and give it a break when it got sure (usually right away). I am convinced that bringing it to the point of *any* pain at regular intervals (along with some ill-advised STEM and ultrasound treatments) is the reason that I still can't run a year and a half later. Because I couldn't handle doing less activity, I am now doing next to no activity.

If I were in your position, I would assume that my workout schedule is messed up not only for the summer, but for the fall as well. As djgh said, think about the future. If you hurry things now, yeah, you may be running/lunging/taking awesome classes by fall - but you will also run a much higher risk of reinjuring the muscle, either this year or ten years down the road.

Good things to do: leg lifts (small ones, only a few at a time at first), gentle yoga, stretching, jumping rope (to get your heart rate up), using a dyna-band, getting excited about your abs and upper body, biking, swimming, walking. Bad things: anything that makes it tighten up or think about hurting. When it hurts, you start over. Or you go backwards - biking didn't hurt at all right after my injury. After a month of repeated minor stresses, it did.

To answer your first question directly, you redefine "workout." You lower the intensity of the workout so much that it couldn't possibly make your leg hurt. You do low-intensity workouts until you're ready to shoot yourself. Then you do them for another month.

Good luck! If you have any questions or would like to know what to do with the dyna-band, or just want to complain about the suckiness of life with a hamstring injury, my email is in my profile.
posted by ramenopres at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]

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