Recovering from a hamstring injury may take days, weeks or months, depending on how severe it is.
A completely torn hamstring may take several months to heal and you'll be unable to resume training or play sport during this time.
During the first 2 or 3 days, you should care for your injury using RICE therapy:
- Rest – keep your leg as still as you possibly can and avoid physical activity. Your GP may recommend using crutches in more severe cases.
- Ice – apply cold packs (a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel will also work) to your hamstring for up to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours during the day. Do not apply ice directly to your skin.
- Compression – compress or bandage the thigh to limit any swelling and movement that could cause further damage. You can use a simple elastic bandage or elasticated tubular bandage available from a pharmacy.
- Elevation – keep your leg raised and supported on a pillow as much as possible, to help reduce any swelling.
Regular painkillers, such as paracetamol or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) cream or gel, may also help relieve the pain.
Short-term use of oral NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen tablets, can also help reduce swelling and inflammation. However, these are not suitable for everyone. Check the leaflet that comes with your medicine to see if you can take it.
Gentle exercises and stretches
Returning to strenuous exercise too quickly could make your injury worse, but avoiding exercise for too long can cause your hamstring muscles to shrink and scar tissue to form around the tear.
To avoid this, you should start doing gentle hamstring stretches after a few days, when the pain has started to subside.
This should be followed by a programme of gentle exercise, such as walking and cycling, and hamstring strengthening exercises.
Your GP can give you further advice and, if necessary, refer you to a physiotherapist for a suitable exercise programme.
To avoid injuring yourself again, you should only return to a full level of activity when your hamstring muscles are strong enough. Your physiotherapist or GP will be able to advise you about this.
Many people need to avoid sports for at least a few weeks, but the length of time you need off will depend on the severity of your injury.