Sore hamstrings can hold you back from your favorite workouts. Here's how to keep that from happening.

Pulled Hamstring: Prevention and Treatment

The first thing you need to do when you experience hamstring pain is make sure it’s a pulled muscle and not due to another cause. You may need to see a doctor or physical therapist to figure this out, but you can try this test: Bend your knee against resistance and see if the pain is in the muscle. Also, pay attention to how your hamstrings feel not just when you’re running but doing other things, like driving a car. If it’s a pulled muscle you’ll feel a twinge in other situations as well.

What Ups My Risk for Hamstring Problems?

  • Overstretching. People like to stretch out their hamstrings a lot, but if you’re very loose you’re at higher risk because long or stretched muscles are prone to damage.
  • Tight muscles. If your hamstrings are short and tight – if, for example, you can’t touch your toes – they’re also more vulnerable to injury. In this case you do need to stretch – gently.
  • Sitting too much. Sitting for long periods of time compromises your hamstrings because they’re not in use. Stand and move around when you can.
  • Muscle imbalances. Runners tend to overwork their quads, which can unbalance hamstrings.

What Do I Do for a Sore Hamstring?

1. Ice is best right after a run, while heat may help if it’s a chronic injury.

2. The best way to rehab hamstrings is combination of dynamic stretching, light kicking, and brisk walking with some long striding. Think of it as strutting things out.

3. Ride a bike. Cycling tends to stretch the hamstrings and I’ve noticed my patients seem to have good hamstring length.

4. Sometimes the injured side is actually the stronger side and it’s been doing more work. Strengthening the other side to get more balance can help in this case.

What Specific Exercises Strengthen Hamstrings?

  • Inclines. Start with gentle hills or by walking uphill on a treadmill or stairmaster. You can use an elliptical in the backwards direction.
  • Jumping. Try hopping with both legs, and with single legs. Jumping rope is another option.
  • Lunges and Squats. Pay attention to how you’re doing them; stay upright on your toes when you squat, and when lunging put more weight on your heel. To check, put your hands on your hamstrings and see if they’re getting tight.




Brian Soo is a senior physical therapist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who works inpatient, outpatient, and in sports medicine.  A recreational runner for many years, Brian also bicycles, plays racquetball, and most importantly, paddles on a 20-person Dragon Boat team that competes internationally and practices three times a week. He also enjoys active video games and believes they can be an excellent complement to an overall fitness regime.