How To Spot The Severity Of A Hamstring Strain

If there’s ever an injury that you just can’t predict or ever see coming, it’s a hamstring strain. 

And, aren’t they painful? 

Anyone whose ever suffered from one will tell you it feels as though something has “clasped the back of your leg” so tightly that it’s not only impossible to move, but it’s horrendously painful. 

See, there’s different levels of a strain to the hamstring – so let me talk to you about them so you can recognize how long you can expect to be out for, if it ever happens to you:

Grade 1 tear – this is usually a very minor cramping sensation felt in the hamstring. You know something isn’t quite right, you feel like you can run it off, but every time you do something just “bites”. Then, when you stop, so does it. The pain goes away. And the temptation is to always think that with a good nights sleep, it’ll probably be ok in the morning. Yet, rarely is it the case. 

With this type of strain – it’s better to be cautious and give it two weeks or so rest and get treatment on it in the form of massage and stretches. It’s usually okay to keep active by jogging, cycling and swimming, too. 

Grade 2 tear – this one hurts! And if you’ve ever ran for a ball or set off to sprint and the back of your leg feels as though a “vice like grip” has took hold – then you’ve likely got a pretty serious strain. It will be painful when you walk – and you may even struggle to sleep as the muscle “bites” sharply every time you do. 

Expect some form of swelling and bruising to appear in the next few days and at least 3-4 weeks on the side-lines. I’d say this is the most common type of a hamstring strain. 

Grade 3 (complete) tear – this one usually requires surgery. And you’d find it almost impossible to even hobble or limp, let alone walk if you ruptured the hamstring muscles completely. It’s rare in grassroots sport (usually happens to athletes running at super high speeds) but it can happen. 

The pain will be very similar to that of a grade 2 tear only with this one you’ll see a lot more bleeding and bruising happening inside the muscle and it would never let you walk or be able to run without severe pain. Can take up to 3 months post surgery to heal. 

So there you go…

The different types of hamstring strains and how to recognize each one. 

I’ve personally suffered with a hamstring strain (type 2) one time so know only too well how painful and disabling (and embarrassing!) it can be. 

Kim Gladfelter

Kim Gladfelter, PT, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist and owner of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness in Los Altos, CA. Kim's facility has a complete wellness center, offering classes in Pilates, Yoga, Gyrotonic® and TRX suspension training, as well as special clinical programs for women’s health. Kim works with people aged 30-65+ on a daily basis and is an expert Columnist who writes health articles for the Los Altos Town Crier newspaper, professional newsletters and blogs nationwide. She also reaches out to the local community, support groups, schools, libraries and sports centers to advise and educate on body awareness and exercise for back pain.
Kim Gladfelter

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