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Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

Have you ever strained your hamstring but the pain just doesn’t go away?

It’s been months since you first started hurting, you can’t actually remember how you injured it (it just started aching one day), you’ve been stretching and massaging it diligently, yet your hamstring still hurts.

This happened to a recent client of ours (“Sandy”).

Sandy was a runner and regular gym goer, who one day noticed an ache in her hamstring. She assumed she had just overdone it working out. She rested it a few days and the pain went away, but when she tried to get back to running she couldn’t. Her hamstring pain came right back. Thinking she hadn’t let it heal enough, she went back to resting it, but this time, decided to add some massage and stretching to her routine. 

A few weeks later… you guessed it… Sandy still couldn’t run.

She also noticed the pain in her hamstring started to feel “different.” It was becoming more deep and achy and started to hurt all the time instead of only when she tried to exert it. It even hurt when she sat for too long. She still couldn’t run and was starting to get worried. Her doctor told her it was just a “strain” and that she had to let it heal. The problem was that it wasn’t healing. Several months had now gone by and she was running out of exercises and stretches to try that would “let it heal.”

Luckily, Sandy attended our recent back pain and sciatica class and realized that the pain in her hamstring might not be a strain at all. 

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

When you truly strain a muscle, it means you have done damage to your muscle tissue. Although it’s possible to have chronic problems from a strain that isn’t rehabilitated properly, strains typically do in fact heal. Once the inflammation from the tissue damage goes away, and you start doing the proper stretching and strengthening, your muscle eventually gets back to normal. Until a muscle strain is fully healed, it will typically be aggravated if you accidentally over-stretch it or exert it. But you usually don’t feel anything when you’re resting the muscle. In Sandy’s case, her hamstring was starting to feel worse when she was resting — the longer she sat, the worse she felt. Your hamstring is completely relaxed when you are sitting, so something wasn’t adding up.

This was the first sign we were likely dealing with something other than a “hamstring strain.” The second sign was that we could take her pain away by moving her back! Yes, you heard that right.

By moving and stretching her back in a specific way, we were able to significantly relieve the pain in her hamstring.

The reason her hamstring was actually hurting was because a nerve had been aggravated in her back. The nerve was causing pain to radiate into her thigh. That’s why it hurt when she sat for too long and it’s why she couldn’t tolerate any running. Sitting puts more stretch and pressure on the nerves in your back, and running puts a lot of compression through your back. Generally speaking, nerves don’t like to be stretched, especially aggravated nerves, and they don’t like to be compressed if they are aggravated either. By stretching her back in a very specific way, we were able to relieve the pressure from the nerve that was giving Sandy her “hamstring strain.” This confirmed that she was indeed having a back problem.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

If you’ve got pain anywhere in your buttocks, hip, thigh, or leg that isn’t going away — especially if you’ve done your due diligence and tried all the “right things” — it’s possible you could have a back problem causing this pain instead. These types of back problems are easily missed if you don’t know how to accurately assess them and it won’t be picked up by an MRI or X-ray. The best way to figure this out is through specialized movement testing, like we did with Sandy. 

We talked all about this in our recent back pain and sciatica class. If you want access to the recording, just call our office: 603-380-7902. If you want to take the next step and meet us in person — you can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here

What is Dry Needling?

At CJ Physical Therapy and Pilates, our goal is to help you live a pain-free life without pain pills or invasive procedures.

Trigger Point Dry Needling is one of several strategies we use to treat muscles that are extremely tense and in spasm. The spasm causes the muscle to be in constant tension which reduces blood flow, decreases oxygen, and can produce fibrotic unhealthy tissue over time (scarring). When a physical therapist inserts the very thin acupuncture needle (dry needle) into a knotted up muscle, it creates a local twitch reflex. Research shows that this not only relaxes the muscle, it breaks up the pain cycle by improving blood flow and oxygen to the muscle. This whole process helps to reduce and normalize inflammation in the area to promote healing. However, dry needling is not necessary for everyone, so it’s important that you know what it is and when it can be used to improve your health! Here’s our advice when it comes to pursuing dry needling treatment.

Work with a physical therapist to use dry needling in conjunction with movement based rehabilitation.

Dry needling can work wonders to relax your muscles. However, they’re just going to get tense and damaged again if you don’t learn how to use them properly and address any movement dysfunction that may be occurring. You don’t want to think of it as a quick fix! Dry needling is just the first step for some individuals who aren’t able to begin a physical therapy or movement regimen without first breaking up the pain cycles in the muscles that are prohibiting healthy movement. Dry needling serves as a “helper” to relax those muscles – and should be integrated with physical therapy treatment and strengthening activities such as Pilates.

Don’t be afraid of trying dry needling!

It can be uncomfortable for some people, but others say they feel no pain at all. It’s not dangerous and has lasting positive effects when used in conjunction with hands-on physical therapy under the direction of a specialist. Furthermore, our clients love it:

“After two back surgeries in my 20s and a new hip at 58, I figured I was lucky just to be walking. Dry needling has transformed the way I move. I’m more flexible. My walking stride has more length and I can stand longer.” – John

Do you have questions about dry needling? Want to see what a specialty physical therapy practice can do for you? We offer FREE Discovery Sessions right here in Portsmouth that give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have! It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health. All you have to do is fill out this quick form, and we’ll be in touch!