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Protect Your Hamstring Muscles and They Will Protect You: Remember to warm up your hamstring before stretching or doing strenuous exercise.

Your hamstring--a group of three muscles which run down the back of your thigh from your hip to your knee--plays a major role in supporting your hips, legs, knees, and back. Hamstrings help us conduct movements such as standing up from a sitting position, walking, lifting from a squat position, and standing in one place for any length of time (such as a grocery store line). Damage to your hamstring could result in additional damage to the bones, muscles, and tissues it supports.

One common problem that causes hamstring injuries is trying to stretch or do a strenuous exercise without properly warming it up, such as in yoga, Zumba, running, or squatting. "It's important to ensure that you never stretch any muscle when it's cold--you should always warm it up first," says Aaron Karp, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery, an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medicine.

Walking is a great warm-up exercise because you can start out slowly and increase gradually. Ten to 15 minutes is a reasonable amount of time to warm up your hamstrings. Cardio exercises, which increase your heart rate, also are good for warming up all muscles. "A few minutes on a bike or elliptical will improve blood circulation and warm up the muscle, making it more pliable so it is prepped for stretching," says Karp.

Prior to taking an exercise class such as yoga or Zumba, warm your muscles for at least 15 minutes. Once you have warmed up, "you can start stretching your hamstring gradually until you feel a comfortable stretch in the back of your thigh," Karp says. "You don't need to force the muscle beyond this point."

Signs of a Hamstring Injury

You'll know if you've pulled a hamstring by sudden severe pain behind the upper leg or buttock, muscle spasms, bruising and tenderness, and possibly swelling, Karp explains. He suggests rest, ice applications, elevation, and compression wraps as the first line of treatment. Aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen may relieve the pain.

"Some soreness after exercise is normal," Karp says. "However, if you feel any sudden sharp pain or deep aching for several days, you may want to consult a qualified professional."

Wearing heels will change the normal alignment of your body, which can affect your hamstring. Consider how long you stand in heels on a daily basis. If your activities of daily living require wearing heels, you may need to spend a larger portion of your exercise routine working on your hamstrings.

Leg Machines at the Gym

"I recommend staying away from machines at the gym," says Karp. "Free weights or even body weight alone are generally better. If you must use a hamstring curl machine, start with a lighter weight and build gradually." Since most hamstring injuries occur during the eccentric phase (when the muscle is lengthening), it would be beneficial to improve strength in this phase of motion. Start with a light weight, Karp says. Perform a hamstring curl, then slowly straighten your knee for roughly four seconds.


Hamstring Stretches

Hamstring Curl: Lie on the floor face down with a pillow under your stomach, keeping your legs straight and your toes pointed down. If your knees are uncomfortable, place a rolled-up washcloth under your kneecaps. Lift one foot up toward your buttock by bending your knee. If you feel pain or discomfort, try again, but don't bend your knee as far. Slowly return your leg to the floor, lightly touching the floor with your toes, and then lift it back up again. Repeat 8-12-times, and then switch to the opposite leg. Do three sets of 8-12 repetitions 3-4 times a week.

Hamstring Doorway Stretch: Lie on your back in front of and slightly to the side of a doorframe. Extend one leg upward and against the doorframe as far up as possible without pain or discomfort. Keep your opposite % (leg extended through the doorway opening. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Remove the leg against the door and lay It down to rest for 5-10 seconds. Do 2-3 sets. Switch legs and repeat against the opposite side of the door.

Caption: Stretch your hamstrings after you warm up, not before.
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Title Annotation:BODYWORKS
Publication:Women's Nutrition Connection
Date:Apr 12, 2019
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