Types and Cause of Hamstring Strains

I haven’t experienced a muscle strain as painful as the time I pulled my hamstring while trying to improve my sprint time. Sometimes, you have a feeling you are about to get hurt. You might feel built up tension or tightness in a given area that is uncomfortable, but you try to push past anyways. You might have slightly strained the area, but competition, coach instructions, or ego might convince you it’s worth the risk to keep pushing yourself past your limits. You continue to overload the slightly damaged area, and manage to completely strain it.

But, how?

How did you hurt yourself if you train so hard and always strive to be better?

What did you miss?

Let’s take a quick look at hamstring strains and risk factors for injury.

There are two forms of hamstring strains, stretch-type and sprint-type (Huygaerts et al., 2020).

Sprint-type strain of the hamstrings is believed to occur during the terminal swing phase of the gait cycle, in which the hamstrings are “active, lengthening and absorbing energy from the decelerating limb in preparation for foot contact (Heiderscheit et al., 2010). The biceps femoris is more commonly injured during running or sprinting actions than the other muscles that make up the hamstrings. In contrast, stretch-type hamstring strains generally impact the semimembranosus (Huygaerts et al., 2020).

Stretch-type hamstring strains, occuring during slow paced motions or stretching actions, typically happen during hip flexion and knee extension (Heiderscheit, Sherry, Silder, Chumanov, & Thelen, 2010).

Hamstring strains can occur due to lack of flexibility, resulting in a decrease of optimal muscle length (Wan, Qu, Garrett, Liu and Yu, 2017). Hamstring optimal muscle length is indeed correlated to hamstring flexibility, but not technically correlated with hamstring strength. In regards to length based on position, an individual’s hamstring optimal muscle length would be longer than what is indicated during a standing position (Wan et al., 2017). Neuromuscular fatigue, due to inadequate recovery, is classified as a potential risk factory for hamstring strains (Huygaerts et al., 2020). In regards to muscular coordination, disproportionate activation of individual hamstring muscles could cause increased muscle demand and overall premature fatigue (Huygaerts et al., 2020).


Heiderscheit, B., Sherry, M., Silder, A., Chumanov, E., and Thelen, D. (2010). Hamstring Strain Injuries: Recommendations for Diagnosis, Rehabilitation, and Injury Prevention. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 40(2), 67-81. Retrieved from https://www.jospt.org/doi/full/10.2519/jospt.2010.3047

Wan, X., Qu, F., Garrett, W. E., Liu, H., & Yu, B. (2017). The effect of hamstring flexibility on peak hamstring muscle strain in sprinting. Journal of sport and health science, 6(3), 283–289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2017.03.012

Huygaerts, S., Cos, F., Cohen, D. D., Calleja-González, J., Guitart, M., Blazevich, A. J., & Alcaraz, P. E. (2020). Mechanisms of Hamstring Strain Injury: Interactions between Fatigue, Muscle Activation and Function. Sports (Basel, Switzerland), 8(5), 65. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports8050065

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