Hamstring Injury: Recovering From Thigh and Leg Pain

Medically reviewed by Amy Kwan, PT, DPT

Hamstring injuries occur when you strain or tear one of the muscles in the back of your thigh. These injuries are common, especially in athletes whose sports require sprinting, kicking, and changing directions quickly. Hamstring injuries range in severity, and recovery time depends on the extent of your injury.

This article discusses hamstring injuries—what they feel like, how to treat them, expected recovery time, and how to return to your normal activities.

<p>Davizro / Getty Images</p>

Davizro / Getty Images

Pain From a Hamstring Injury

The hamstrings are a set of three muscles on the back of each thigh—semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris. These muscles begin at the "sit bones" in your buttocks and attach at the back of the knees. Depending on the type of injury, hamstring injuries can cause pain anywhere along the muscle.

Hamstring injuries range from a mild strain—sometimes called a "pulled hamstring"—to a complete tear. These injuries are graded based on their severity:

  • Grade 1: Mild strain with overstretched muscle fibers or microtears

  • Grade 2: Moderate strain with tearing of more muscle fibers

  • Grade 3: Complete tear of the muscle or tendons that connect the muscle to bone

All grades of hamstring injuries can cause significant pain. This pain is typically sharp and comes on suddenly when the injury occurs.

Other symptoms of hamstring injuries can include:

  • Swelling

  • Bruising

  • Stiffness

  • Decreased strength

Grade 3 injuries can also cause a "dent" in the thigh where the muscle or tendon is torn and often create an audible popping sound when the injury occurs. They also result in a complete loss of muscle function.

Hamstring Injuries in Sports and Activities

Anyone participating in a sport or physical activity involving sprinting, slide tackling, or high kicking may experience a hamstring injury. Some sports and activities in which hamstring injuries occur include:

  • Running

  • Dancing

  • Track and field sports

  • Football

  • Soccer

  • Basketball

Healing a Hamstring Injury: How Long Does Recovery Take?

Healing time frames for hamstring injuries depend on the extent of muscle damage that has occurred. Generally, a mild strain can recover within 10 days to three weeks.

A moderate strain usually takes between three weeks and eight weeks to heal. However, moderate strains can take up to six months to fully heal. Moderate strains can also require physical therapy to aid in recovery.

Grade 3 strains—hamstring tears—require surgery to fix. After surgery, rehab is directed by a physical therapist. Full recovery after surgery, including returning to sports activities, can take six months or longer.

How to Treat a Hamstring Injury

A healthcare provider should evaluate any suspected hamstring tears immediately.

Initial treatment for mild and moderate hamstring injuries should include the RICE protocol:

  • Rest: Avoid aggravating activities—which could initially include walking. Immediately after your injury, you might need to walk with crutches to decrease pressure on your injured hamstring.

  • Ice: Apply ice to your hamstring for 20 minutes several times per day. Place a cloth between your skin and the ice pack to avoid ice burn.

  • Compression: Wrapping your thigh with an elastic bandage can help reduce swelling and provide support for your pulled hamstring.

  • Elevation: When sitting or lying down, prop your leg up to allow gravity to assist with decreasing your swelling.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve (naproxen), Motrin/Advil (ibuprofen), or Bayer (aspirin)—can also help reduce symptoms of a hamstring injury.

After several days, you can apply heat to your hamstrings to increase blood flow, promote healing, and decrease muscle tightness.

When your pain has decreased, you can gently stretch your hamstrings to improve range of motion and help regain function as you return to daily activities. To ensure the best possible recovery from your injury, consider seeing a physical therapist for an individualized hamstring exercise program.

Related: Is Ice or Heat Better for Treating an Injury?

When to Resume Exercise

Resuming exercise too soon after hamstring injury can increase your risk of reinjury. Begin slowly. For example, if you're a runner, start by taking a walk. When you find that walking is pain-free, alternate short bursts of jogging with periods of walking.

Walking on a Hamstring Injury

Walking can be quite painful—or even impossible—immediately after a hamstring injury. You might need to walk with an assistive device, such as crutches, while your injury heals.

Crutches help unload body weight from your injured leg. As your pain decreases, you can continue to use crutches while you begin to increase the amount of weight placed on your leg. Eventually, you can progress to using one crutch or a cane (on the side opposite your injury) until you are able to walk without assistance.

If you've had surgery to repair your hamstring injury, follow your physical therapist's instructions for advancing your return to walking as you did before it.


Hamstring injuries are common in athletes but can affect anyone. These injuries vary in severity and recovery time. Home remedies such as activity modification, ice, compression, and elevation can often treat mild to moderate muscle strains. The complete tearing of a hamstring muscle or tendon requires surgery to heal.

Physical therapy can often speed up the hamstring strain recovery process. Learning how to return to activity safely after these injuries can help reduce the risk of reinjury.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.