Tag Archive for: pulled hamstring

Three Red Flags Your Hamstring Strain is Probably Something Else

A hamstring strain is a common injury I see in active patients aged 40 and above. But sadly – it’s also one of the most common mis-diagnoses I see as well. 

First, what does a true hamstring strain or injury look like?

A true hamstring strain typically presents with a sudden, sharp pain in the back of your thigh. Usually during activities such as sprinting, jumping, or sudden changes in direction. The injury often occurs due to overstretching or overloading the muscles beyond their capacity. Thus, leading to microscopic tears within the muscle fibers. Symptoms typically include tenderness, swelling, and bruising in the affected area, along with difficulty walking or bending the knee. To recover from a hamstring strain, you first need to heal the injured muscle/tissue. Then properly strengthen it so it can handle all the activities you want to do. This involves some combination of rest and therapeutic movement at first, followed by carefully prescribed strengthening and loading of the damaged tissue so that it heals back strong and resilient. When a hamstring injury is accurately diagnosed, and properly rehabbed, you can return to all the activities you love and it shouldn’t bother you again.

If you’ve recently suffered an injury to your hamstring – and it doesn’t sound like what I’ve just described – then you’ll want to keep reading – because there’s a good chance it was mis-diagnosed and your treatment is all wrong.

Here are 3 red flags that indicate your hamstring strain is probably something else – and usually a back problem instead:

1. You have chronic hamstring pain

A true hamstring strain is simply an injury to your soft tissue (muscle) and it should heal with time. Now, sometimes you don’t rehab it properly, and it can result in chronic problems, but it shouldn’t be chronic pain. There’s a difference – let me explain. A poorly rehabbed hamstring is likely to cause problems elsewhere in your body (namely your hip and knee), but the hamstring itself won’t remain chronically painful. You might trigger a poorly rehabbed hamstring when you do activities that bother it, but at rest, it will be for the most part “healed”. If you experience chronic achiness, especially at rest or when you’ve been sitting for a long time, this is likely something else. Signs like this often point to an undiagnosed back problem. This is especially true if when you first hurt your hamstring it seemed to have come out of nowhere – for example – you just woke up with it one day or it came on gradually. True hamstring injuries are painful where you hurt it, and go away with time and certainly with proper rehab. A chronic pain in your hamstring that lingers for months or years, especially when you’re at rest, is probably something else.

2. Numbness and Tingling in your butt or leg

This symptom is almost always a red flag that the problem is stemming for your lower back or sacrum (tail bone area of your spine). This is because the nerves responsible for sensation in both your butt and leg originate from your spine. Your hamstring, on the other hand, is a muscle. Anatomically speaking – it can’t directly refer numbness to anywhere in your leg. With a true hamstring strain, you’ll experience localized pain, tenderness, and even swelling – but not numbness. So if you’ve suddenly started experiencing pain in the area of your hamstring, and are also having numbness and tingling in your leg, then your hamstring strain is probably due to something else – most likely a problem in your spine.

3. You feel pain below your knee

Your hamstring is the big group of muscles in the back of your thigh (you have three of them). They are responsible for flexing your knee and extending your hip. They originate from a bone at the bottom of your pelvis, deep inside your butt, and attach into various areas behind your knee. Because of where your hamstring is located, it’s impossible to feel true hamstring pain below your knee. This is a big red flag to me that the problem is likely coming from your spine. Now, it’s possible that your lower leg has begun to compensate for a poorly rehabbed hamstring strain and it’s hurting due to that. However, if you feel pain radiating from the back of your thigh, past your knee, and into your lower leg – it’s likely a back problem. Fun fact: 38% of all lower leg pain comes from a source within your spine even if you don’t have any back pain at all. So it’s very possible that pain in the back of your thigh and lower leg could be originating from your lower back.

Keep an eye out for these three red flags next time you feel pain or strain in your hamstring.

Remember that in most cases, you’ll know when you’ve strained your hamstring. With a true hamstring strain, the pain occurs at the time of injury and it’s fairly obvious. But if your hamstring pain comes out of nowhere, becomes chronic, starts feeling numb and tingly, or you’re experiencing pain below your knee – then you must consider that it could be something else – and that it’s likely a back problem. Talk to a physical therapy specialist who understands how to diagnose this properly. If you don’t get the root cause right, you won’t get the treatment right, and it will only delay the time it takes to get back to doing all the activities you love.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH?

Consider speaking to one of my specialists by booking a free discovery visit HERE. They’ll ask you what’s been going on and see if we would be a good fit to help you 🙂

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Hamstrings Always Tight? This Could be Why

If you’ve ever felt tightness in your hamstrings, the typical advice you get from friends, family, and even well-meaning healthcare professionals is to stretch them.

But if even your stretches just aren’t working – what then?

You hear me say this a lot… but if you’re constantly stretching… or even foam rolling a tight or tense muscle… and nothing seems to change… then it’s time to start considering that it might be something else.

I see this scenario ALL the time in our office…

Just recently, a gentleman (we’ll call him “Steve”) came to us with what he thought was a “chronic hamstring strain…”

He had been stretching his hamstrings consistently – but they just weren’t loosening up.

He wanted to know if there were better stretches he could be doing to loosen up the tight, uncomfortable feeling he was experiencing in the back of his thigh every day.

First – it was critical to make certain that Steve’s problem was… in fact… a tight hamstring.

If the chronic tightness in the back of Steve’s thigh was due to a hamstring problem, his stretches really should’ve been having some sort of impact.

Instead, the stretches either did nothing… or made his thigh ache.

Sometimes after stretching a lot – he would “feel” his hamstring for the rest of the day – even when he was just sitting. We checked that he was using proper stretching technique – and he was – so something wasn’t right.

When you’re having a problem with your muscle – and only your muscle – you’ll experience discomfort, tightness, or pain when you’re either using that muscle or stretching that muscle.

Otherwise – you should generally feel perfectly fine.

Muscles are made up of what we call contractile tissue. When you truly strain a muscle, this contractile tissue gets disrupted. You heal it by moving and stretching it – and eventually it goes back to normal. On occasion, people don’t move enough after a muscle strain and the tissue can become chronically tight. But still, you would only experience that tightness when trying to use or stretch the muscle.

This wasn’t the case for Steve.

His pain would, on occasion, linger throughout the day when he was resting or sitting. Sometimes he’d notice hamstring discomfort at night when he was trying to sleep.

Steve was feeling symptoms in his hamstring whether he was using that muscle or not – and his stretches weren’t helping.

This immediately tells me that there was another problem causing his symptoms and it was more than just a tight hamstring. – and when hamstring or thigh tightness doesn’t respond to stretching or exercise – we must always consider the lower back.

Since Steve wasn’t feeling any pain in his lower back – he never considered this himself.

But the key was in how Steve’s pain was behaving…

Your pain behaves in different ways depending on where it’s coming from..

As I mentioned previously, when your muscle is the source, your pain behaves in a very specific and repeatable manner.

But if pain is coming from your spine, it can quite literally be all over the place.

You can feel symptoms in your back, your butt, and your limbs. You’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll feel symptoms at rest, and you can certainly feel tightness in your hamstring – just like Steve.

The other interesting thing about problems that originate from the spine is that you’ll often be able to trigger your symptoms by moving your spine.

When we investigated Steve’s spine… we found that when he moved a certain way over and over… it would produce his hamstring tightness.


This explains why Steve’s hamstring stretches were doing absolutely nothing… He was stretching his thigh when he really needed to stretch his back.

Does Steve’s story resonate with you?

If you’re feeling chronic tightness or pain in your hamstring that just isn’t going away – chances are good that you’re missing something.

Do yourself a favor… DON’T check YouTube or “Dr. Google” for advice…

Talk to one of our experts instead.

Best way to do that is request a FREE Discovery Session.

We’ll talk to you about the symptoms in your hamstring and let you know if stretching is enough… or if you need something more!

CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.


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