Hamstring injury (muscle strain)

A hamstring injury is a strain or tear to the tendons or large muscles at the back of the thigh. Consider seeing your GP if you have concerns about a hamstring injury, particularly if you think it's a severe injury, it's not healing, or your symptoms are getting worse.

Causes of a hamstring injury

The hamstring muscles, is the common name for the muscles at the back of the thigh responsible for bending the leg at the knee, and moving the thigh bone backwards. The term ‘hamstring muscles’ is used to describe the group of three muscles, semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris.

A hamstring injury can occur if any of the tendons or muscles are stretched beyond their limit.

They often occur during sudden, explosive movements, such as:

  • sprinting
  • lunging
  • jumping

They can also occur more gradually, or during slower movements that overstretch your hamstring.

Recurring injury is common in athletes and people regularly taking part in sporting activities. This is because you’re more likely to injure your hamstring if you've injured it before.

Regularly doing stretching and strengthening exercises, and warming up before exercise, may help reduce the risk of injuring your hamstring.

Different grades of hamstring injury

There are three grades of hamstring injury. These vary in severity and the length of time they take to recover from.

Mild hamstring strains (grade 1)

  • will usually cause sudden pain and tenderness the back of your thigh
  • It may be painful to move your leg
  • strength of the muscle shouldn't be affected

Partial hamstring tears (grade 2)

  • usually more painful and tender
  • may be some swelling and bruising at the back of your thigh
  • you may have lost some strength in your leg

Severe hamstring tears (grade 3)

  • will usually be very painful
  • will usually be tender, swollen and bruised
  • may have been a "popping" sensation at the time of the injury
  • you'll be unable to use the affected leg

When to see your GP

Most hamstring injuries can be cared for at home using the techniques outlined below. If you have access to a physiotherapist, they will be best placed to advise you how to manage the injury.

Consider seeing your GP if:

  • you have any concerns about your injury
  • you think it's a severe injury
  • it's not healing
  • your symptoms are getting worse

Your GP can advise you about when you can return to your normal activities. They can also suggest exercises you should do to aid your recovery. 

Your GP may refer you to a physiotherapist for specialist treatment in some cases.

Treatment for a hamstring injury

Recovering from a hamstring injury may take days, weeks or months. This will depend on how bad the strain or tear is.

A completely torn hamstring may take several months to heal. You’ll be unable to resume training or play sport during this time. During the first two or three days, you should care for your injury using PRICE:

  • protection - protect from further injury (for example by using a support or high-top, lace-up shoes)
  • rest - avoid activity for the first 48-72 hours following injury
  • ice - apply ice wrapped in a damp towel for 15-20 minutes every 2-3 hours during the day for the first 48-72 hours following the injury (this should not be left on whilst the person is asleep)
  • compression - with a simple elastic bandage or elasticated tubular bandage, which should be snug but not tight, to help control swelling and support the injury (this should be removed before going to sleep)
  • elevation - keep the injured area elevated and supported on a pillow until the swelling is controlled (if the leg is injured, long periods of time with the leg not elevated should be avoided)

Avoid HARM (Heat, Alcohol, Running, and Massage) in the first 72 hours after the injury

Regular painkillers, such as paracetamol or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) cream or gel, may also help relieve the pain. An oral NSAID (for example ibuprofen) can be taken 48 hours after the initial injury, if needed.

Ask your GP or pharmacist if you need advice about pain relief.

Gentle exercises and stretches

Returning to strenuous exercise too quickly could make your injury worse. But avoiding exercise for too long can cause your hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissue to form around the tear.

To avoid this, you should start doing gentle hamstring stretches after a few days. This is when the pain has started to subside.

This should be followed by a programme of gentle exercise, such as: 

  • walking
  • cycling
  • hamstring strengthening exercises

Your GP can give you further advice and, if necessary, refer you to a physiotherapist for a suitable exercise programme.

To avoid injuring yourself again, you should only return to a full level of activity when your hamstring muscles are strong enough. Your physiotherapist or GP will be able to advise you about this.

Many people need to avoid sports for at least a few weeks. But the length of time you need off will depend on the severity of your injury.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

Health conditions A to Z

Search by health condition or symptoms

Or find conditions beginning with …

Share this page

What do you want to do?
What is your question about?
Do you want a reply?
Your email address
To reply to you, we need your email address
Your feedback

We will not reply to your feedback.  Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

This feedback form is for issues with the nidirect website only.

You can use it to report a problem or suggest an improvement to a webpage.

If you have a question about a government service or policy, you should contact the relevant government organisation directly as we don’t have access to information about you held by government departments.

You must be aged 13 years or older - if you’re younger, ask someone with parental responsibility to send the feedback for you.

The nidirect privacy notice applies to any information you send on this feedback form.

Don't include any personal or financial information, for example National Insurance, credit card numbers, or phone numbers.

Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.
Plain text only, 750 characters maximum.

What to do next

Comments or queries about angling can be emailed to anglingcorrespondence@daera-ni.gov.uk 

What to do next

If you have a comment or query about benefits, you will need to contact the government department or agency which handles that benefit.  Contacts for common benefits are listed below.

Carer's Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912

Discretionary support / Short-term benefit advance

Call 0800 587 2750 

Disability Living Allowance

Call 0800 587 0912 
Email dcs.incomingpostteamdhc2@nissa.gsi.gov.uk

Employment and Support Allowance

Call 0800 587 1377

Jobseeker’s Allowance

Contact your local Jobs & Benefits office

Personal Independence Payment

Call 0800 587 0932

If your query is about another benefit, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

Comments or queries about the Blue Badge scheme can be emailed to bluebadges@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk or you can also call 0300 200 7818.

What to do next

For queries or advice about careers, contact the Careers Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Child Maintenance, contact the Child Maintenance Service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about claiming compensation due to a road problem, contact DFI Roads claim unit.

What to do next

For queries or advice about criminal record checks, email ani@accessni.gov.uk

What to do next

Application and payment queries can be emailed to ema_ni@slc.co.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about employment rights, contact the Labour Relations Agency.

What to do next

For queries or advice about birth, death, marriage and civil partnership certificates and research, contact the General Register Office Northern Ireland (GRONI) by email gro_nisra@finance-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries about:

If your query is about another topic, select ‘Other’ from the drop-down menu above.

What to do next

For queries or advice about passports, contact HM Passport Office.

What to do next

For queries or advice about Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs), including parking tickets and bus lane PCNs, email dcu@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk

What to do next

For queries or advice about pensions, contact the Northern Ireland Pension Centre.

What to do next

If you wish to report a problem with a road or street you can do so online in this section.

If you wish to check on a problem or fault you have already reported, contact DfI Roads.

What to do next

For queries or advice about historical, social or cultural records relating to Northern Ireland, use the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) enquiry service.

What to do next

For queries or advice about rates, email:

For queries or advice about property valuation, email:

For queries or advice about land registry, email:

For mapping queries, email:

What to do next

For queries or advice about  60+ and Senior Citizen SmartPasses (which can be used to get concessionary travel on public transport), contact Smartpass - Translink.