For immediate self-care of a hamstring injury, try the R.I.C.E. approach — rest, ice, compression, elevation. If your injury is worse than a minor muscle strain, you'll want your doctor and physical therapist to help you with this process:
- Rest. Take a break from strenuous activities to rest your hamstring muscles and allow the damaged tissues to repair. Avoid any activity that causes pain, swelling or discomfort. For a more extensive injury, your doctor may recommend that you use crutches so that you keep your weight off your injured leg.
- Ice. Even if you're seeking medical help, ice the area immediately. For the first few days after the injury, put an ice pack on the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours while you're awake. Cold reduces pain, swelling and inflammation in injured muscles, joints and connective tissues. It may also slow bleeding if a tear has occurred. If your skin turns white when it's being iced, stop treatment immediately. If you have vascular disease, diabetes or decreased sensation, talk with your doctor before applying ice.
- Compression. Wrap your leg with an elastic compression bandage until the swelling goes down. Be careful not to wrap your leg too tightly for you may impair circulation. Begin wrapping at the end farthest from your heart. Loosen the bandage if the pain increases, the area becomes numb or swelling occurs below the wrapped area.
- Elevation. Sit or lie back with your leg elevated while resting. If possible, elevate your leg higher than the level of your heart. Gravity helps reduce swelling by draining excess fluid.
Over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), also can be helpful. After a few days, gently begin to use the injured leg. You should notice a gradual, progressive improvement in your leg's ability to support your weight and your ability to move without pain.
Dec. 05, 2012
- Frontera WR, et al. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-6/0/1678/0.html. Accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
- Fields KB, et al. Hamstring injuries. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed Sept. 27, 2012.
- Hamstring muscle injuries. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00408. Accessed Sept. 28, 2012.
- Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/sprains_strains/default.asp. Accessed Sept. 28, 2012.