The hamstring muscle is located at the back of the thigh; it is attached to the pelvis and the knee joint. The tendon that attaches the hamstring muscle to the tibia, below the knee joint, is called the hamstring tendon; it is this tissue that is affected in hamstring tendonitis. The hamstring tendon assists the muscle action of the hamstring by forming an anchor and helping with bending the knee.
The Cause of Hamstring Tendonitis
When the hamstring tendon is placed under stress during movement, small tears can occur where it attaches to the bone. These tears become inflamed and the tendon becomes painful; this is hamstring tendonitis. Sports such as tennis, netball and basketball require sudden changes of direction and stopping which is a major cause of hamstring tendonitis. Walking or running on uneven ground, lifting heavy weight and age are also common causes.
The Symptoms of Hamstring Tendonitis
Hamstring tendonitis is sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as a knee injury because the pain occurs where the tendon joins the shin bone below the knee. The pain is usually felt as a mild twinge after exercise or sport but this will quickly develop into stronger pain without treatment. The actual tendon may be sore to touch or manipulate.
Stiffness in the knee is common, both after and during activity. Bending the knee is difficult and there will be pain when the leg is extended forward. The tendon area at the back of the knee might feel hot, look red and appear swollen.
The Treatment of Hamstring Tendonitis
Without treatment, the pain of hamstring tendonitis will become worse as the injury develops into a more serious problem. Most cases can be successfully treated at home with conservative treatment methods.
Rest is the most important aspect of treatment. Sit or lie with the leg supported at your heart level. You must allow at least four to six weeks without any activity to allow for proper healing to take place. When you do return to normal activities, start off very slowly and take a few more weeks to build back up to the level of exercise you were doing before the injury.
To relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation, ice is the best treatment. Apply ice packs every two or three hours during the day to reduce swelling and keep pain at bay. Anti-inflammatory medication can also help reduce the inflammation; these are readily available from a pharmacy.
If these treatment methods don’t relieve the pain, consult a doctor. You might need x-rays or scans to determine the exact injury you have sustained and there are other treatments that a doctor can prescribe. The doctor can also prescribe stronger anti-inflammatories, if you need them for pain relief.
Hamstring tendonitis tends to be a sporting injury and so it is really important to warm up properly before any exercise or event. Stretching the hamstring muscle is a basic stretch performed by all athletes so make sure you include them in your warm-up and cool-down exercise.
Avoid uneven ground when running and walking and alternate the type of surfaces you run on. Use non-weight bearing exercise for training, like swimming or cycling, to keep the pressure off the knees.
Take your time returning to full activity after a hamstring injury and stop immediately if you feel any pain. Wear a knee brace for support, when you play sport or exercise, if you find that you have recurrent bouts of hamstring tendonitis.