If you didn’t know better, you’d think hamstring injuries were contagious with the way they spread like a virus through the NFL once the season starts. It seems that every team has someone out with a hamstring issue, and the Eagles are certainly no exception with QB Michael Vick currently sidelined.
Much less advertised in everyday life, many athletes are subject to this pain. Most people ignore it and try ways of getting around it but are still able to do the activities they love. Many try to stretch it until they no longer feel pain, or have someone push them into pain also seems to be a popular choice for a hamstring injury. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. Here’s a tidbit—if it hurts, don’t do it. It is not helping the situation. So what is going on? Why does it seem like hamstring injuries are becoming an epidemic?
Easy answer. Running. Seems simple enough, right? If you do an in-depth analysis of Vick’s gait, much like many other people, he has an increased, what is termed ‘over-stride angle.’ This is done through a computerized running analysis that I am fortunate to have in my clinic. But every person that I have had on the treadmill and report hamstring pain has an increased over-stride angle.
In simplest terms, it most often means people over extend their stride and then strike with their heel and not with their midfoot when running. However, I assure you, I see an increased over-stride angle in forefoot and midfoot strikers as well.
Without going into a great amount of detail, increasing the over-stride angle also increases the microfiber trauma in the muscles surrounding the hips. The hamstring muscle group is one of the muscle groups that are damaged when there is an increased over-stride angle. So every time Vick runs he causes hundreds of thousands of individual muscle fibers to tear, microtraumas, the same as anyone else with hamstring pain. Microtraumas are completely normal and happen every day to everyone with just normal activity. It is the ones that occur over and over and over again are the ones that prevent proper healing and eventually lead to pain.
As part of the repair process of these microtraumas, the body forms scar tissue inside the muscle. Again this is a normal process. The scar tissue also forms in the connective tissue between the muscle fibers. The connective tissue has the job of allowing the muscle fibers to slide easily on top of one another. This scar tissue restricts motion so the area can heal. Consider the scar tissue as a cast on the muscle. It allows the muscle fibers to have limited motion while they heal. As these casts become more prevalent it impedes the muscles ability to function normally and then the pain starts. The muscle has formed so many casts that it can no longer function in its normal capacity and it can no longer sustain any more microtraumas. So it stops people dead in their tracks and makes them unable to run and perform high level activities, such as football.
Unfortunately the scar tissue does not go away on its own or with stretching. It needs to be broken up using specialized manual techniques. Foam rolling the hamstrings does help, especially when the microtraumas have not become so great that they have caused pain. Adding foam rolling to the hamstrings following an intense workout will help break up and remodel some of the scar tissue—which may keep you off the sidelines.
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