Hamstring Injury

Updated: May 22, 2018
  • Author: Herman Brad Ruiz, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Practice Essentials

This article focuses on injuries to the hamstring muscles. The word "hamstrings" was derived from the fact that it is these muscles by which a butcher would hang a slaughtered pig.

The hamstrings are a group of muscles (ie, semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris) located on the back of the upper leg. [1, 2] The hamstrings are a common source of injury and chronic pain in athletes. Injuries to the hamstring muscles primarily occur proximally and laterally, and they usually involve the biceps femoris. The severity of injury to the hamstring muscles is classified according to the following grades:

  • Grade 1 is a mild strain, with few muscle fibers being torn.

  • Grade 2 is a moderate strain, with a definite loss in strength.

  • Grade 3 is a complete tear of the hamstrings.

Hamstring injuries almost always occur at the proximal myotendinous junction. In the biceps femoris, this junction extends over most of its entire length. Injury usually does not occur within the tendon itself unless there is preexisting pathology.

Bony avulsion at the ischial origin may occur as well, but this is usually associated with sudden, large-force, hip-flexion injuries. [3] Avulsions are commonly seen in individuals who have been involved in waterskiing accidents in which the knee is extended and the hip is suddenly flexed as the skier falls forward. [4]

One study involving 47 football players with hamstring injuries reported an average of 14 days of convalescence before return to play.

For patient education resources, see the Sports Injury Center, Sprains and Strains Center, and Foot, Ankle, Knee, and Hip Center, as well as Muscle Strain and Ruptured Tendon.

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United States

As a percentage of lower-extremity injuries, hamstring injuries peak at 33% in persons aged 16-25 years, and they most often occur in sports in which the hamstrings can be stretched eccentrically at high speed. [5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10] Prime examples of such sporting activities include sprinting, track and field, and other running contact sports, such as football and soccer. Recreational sports such as waterskiing, in which the knee is fully extended during injury, are also common causes of hamstring injuries. [4] One study analyzed data from the National Football League’s Injury Surveillance System and found that a high percentage of hamstring injuries occur in the preseason. Over the 10-year study period, 1716 hamstring strains were noted, with slightly more than 50% occurring during the preseason. Players on the special teams units as well as wide receivers and defensive secondary were found to have an elevated risk for injury. [11]


An Australian study involving 1614 individuals with hamstring injuries revealed that such injuries compose 54% of the injuries in rugby, 10% of the injuries in soccer, 14% of the injuries in track, and less than 2% of the injuries in tennis, squash, ballet, and gymnastics.

A 13-year longitudinal analysis by Ekstrand et al that included 36 European Football clubs and 1614 hamstring injuries reported that training-related hamstring injury rates increased by 4.0% per year since 2001 while match-related injury rates have remained stable. [12]


Functional Anatomy

The hamstrings are composed of 3 muscles, as follows:

  • Biceps femoris muscle (long head and short head)

  • Semimembranosus muscle

  • Semitendinosus muscle

Origins and insertions

All of the muscles of the hamstrings originate on the ischial tuberosity. The second head of the biceps femoris (ie, short head) originates medial to the linea aspera on the distal posterior femur.

The short head of the biceps femoris crosses only one joint to insert with the long head of the biceps femoris onto the fibular head and lateral tibial condyle.

The other hamstring muscles cross 2 joints to reach their insertions. The semitendinosus muscle forms the pes anserinus with the sartorius and gracilis tendons to insert on the medial tibial metaphysis. The semimembranosus muscle interweaves with the fibers of the semitendinosus to eventually insert onto the posteromedial tibial condyle.


The short head of the biceps femoris muscle is also unique in that it is innervated by the peroneal portion of the sciatic nerve, whereas the long head of the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus are innervated by the tibial portion of the sciatic nerve.


Sport-Specific Biomechanics

In track and field events in which the hamstring is eccentrically contracted, the risk of a hamstring injury can be high. Contact sports such as football can result in contusions of the hamstring muscle. [13, 14] The contusion is superficial when the muscle is contracted on impact, and it is deep when the muscle is relaxed on impact. Waterskiing accidents have an association with proximal, bony avulsions because the individual's knee is extended when the hip undergoes a violent, forceful flexion as he/she falls forward.

Related Medscape topics:

Resource Center Exercise and Sports Medicine

Resource Center Trauma

Specialty Site Orthopaedics