Golfing Doc: “Help! I think I pulled a hammy!”

“Dear The Golfing Doc. I was working out and felt something pop in the back of my thigh. I dropped to the ground with a lot of pain. I think I pulled my hammy? Please help. Thanks. George A., Tacoma, WA.”

Most people have experienced a hamstring pull, or technically a hamstring strain, to some degree or another. For instance, if you have gone for a long run or worked out your legs intensely in the gym, you may have noticed some hamstring pain immediately afterwards or the next day. Or maybe you were jumping and heard or felt something “pop” in the back of your thigh. These signs are all indicative of a possible strain and muscle damage, but the severity is what helps differentiate between what is normal and what is a potential injury. Let’s take a closer look at what a muscle strain is.

First, a muscle is made up of several tiny muscle fibers. Connective tissue surrounding these fibers help put them in larger groups and eventually create a bigger muscle. The hamstrings, which are made up of 3 large muscles (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus) are a great example. These fibers can stretch but when they are overstretched, they become traumatized and injured. This can happen with aggressive stretching, a sudden contraction of the hamstring, or even a direct blow to the muscles.

A hamstring strain can be categorized into 3 categories:

Grade 1: Mild damage to the individual muscle fibers, usually less than 5% of the fibers. Signs and symptoms include minimal loss of strength and range of motion.

Grade 2: Moderate damage and involves more muscles fibers. This grade can be used to describe tears up to 90% but the muscle is not completely ruptured. Signs and symptoms include loss of strength and range of motion. You may also experience some limping and generalized bruising.

Grade 3: Extensive damage and complete rupture of the muscle or tendon. Signs and symptoms include significant pain, significant loss of strength and range of motion, possible inability to walk without assistance, and swelling.

When it comes to treatment, it all depends on proper diagnosis by your doctor and where you are referred to for therapy. Here are some general recommendations and guidelines:

Grade 1: Don’t try to stretch the hamstring too much as it is already overstretched. Instead, rest it and ice it. If you don’t make it worse by aggravating it with activity, then it will normally take 2 to 3 weeks to improve.

Grade 2: Treat it like a grade 1 strain but you may need to take something for the pain. These can take 2 to 3 months to improve with the addition of some form of rehabilitation therapy. Surgery is usually not necessary.

Grade 3: Depending on what part of the hamstring is ruptured, surgery may not be necessary. However, keep in mind that it may be required to reattach the damaged muscle or tendon. Healing time including therapy and rehab exercises may take 12 to 15 months until full strength and range of motion is restored.

So, depending on the grade of your hamstring strain, your ability to golf may or may not be affected. A grade 1 might be uncomfortable to golf but it would be best to avoid any swings that irritate it. A grade 2 is more significant and I would recommend not golfing if you can feel that hamstring while walking or swinging. A grade 3 is the extreme case and I would wait until you are cleared by your doctor to golf.

My advice is to take care of your hamstrings before you have a problem. One way to do that is to foam roll the muscles regularly. This will help massage the fibers and even help loosen up any knots you may feel. Another thing is to stretch them regularly. If you go to the gym or have weights at home, do a few resistance exercises to help keep the hamstrings strong. If you feel any pain, stop immediately and consult your physician. For more exercises on keeping your legs healthy, visit Shawn’s daily blog at

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