Hamstring tendonitis is an injury to one or both of the hamstring tendons, which are part of the thick band of muscles and tendons called the hamstrings. The hamstring tendons connect the hamstring muscles to the pelvis, knee, and shinbones.
As the hamstrings help the knee bend, an injury to either the tendons or the muscles can cause knee pain and difficulty walking or bending the knee. People often develop tendonitis because of overuse.
Over time, especially with excessive use, the hamstring tendons can become inflamed and swollen, which is hamstring tendonitis. Runners, swimmers, cyclists, and people who perform other repetitive movements of the knees and legs are more vulnerable to hamstring tendonitis.
The most common symptoms of hamstring tendonitis include:
- pain in or close to the knee joint
- pain that radiates up the thigh and possibly into the hip or pelvis
- swelling in or around the knee or thigh
- pain that gets worse with activity, especially repetitive motions
- difficulty moving or bending the knee or intense pain when trying to walk or bend the knee
People are more likely to get hamstring tendonitis when they exercise with improper form, lift weights that are too heavy, or return to vigorous exercise after an extended period of being less active. Advancing age can also increase the risk of tendonitis.
People who suspect that they have tendonitis should see a doctor for a diagnosis.
Tendonitis sometimes resembles other conditions, such as bursitis, which is inflammation of the sac of fluid that lubricates a joint. Bursitis in the knee can cause intense knee pain and trouble moving the knee, much like hamstring tendonitis. Arthritis, a chronic joint condition, may also cause knee pain.
The first goal of treatment is to prevent the injury from becoming worse. A person can rest the tendon by avoiding repetitive activities, especially the activity that caused the injury. They can also try the following home management strategies:
- RICE: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Rest the tendon for a few days, and apply an ice pack to the site of the pain to reduce swelling and inflammation. Elevate the leg above the chest, and compress the injury with a wrap or splint.
- Massage: Target the area around the knee as well as the thigh and hip. Doing this can ease pain and muscle tension.
- Avoid sitting for long periods: Although resting the tendon is important, becoming more sedentary can increase muscle tension and cause pain in other muscles and tendons.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications: These drugs include ibuprofen, which can help manage pain and swelling.
- Stretch: Try gentle stretching exercises to encourage blood flow to the tendon, promote better mobility, and aid healing.
It can take several weeks for home remedies to help with symptoms.
Tendonitis is often a chronic injury that comes and goes. Identifying the triggers of tendonitis can help with managing the condition.
If home treatment does not work, the pain is very severe, or tendonitis keeps returning, a doctor may inject the tendon with corticosteroids. This injection does not cure the injury, but it can provide relief for several weeks. In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat chronic tendonitis.
Physical therapy can help people regain strength and mobility. Those who have had tendonitis surgery may need several months of physical therapy. Physical therapy can also help with chronic pain, and it may sometimes even reduce the need for surgery.
Swimming can benefit the hamstrings without causing pain.
It is important to talk to a doctor before doing exercises for hamstring tendinitis and to avoid exercises that make the pain worse, which may further damage the tendon.
Some exercises that may be beneficial include:
- Walking: Walking engages the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings, but it is not as hard on the joints as running.
- Swimming and water aerobics: Swimming and water aerobics can keep the hamstrings engaged without the high impact and potential pain that accompanies running and similar activities.
Gentle stretches promote blood flow to the tendons, which can ease tension and prevent the muscles that connect to the tendon from becoming tense and sore.
People can try the following stretches:
- Standing hamstring stretch. Stand upright, adopting a relaxed posture but keeping the spine straight. Place the heel of the injured leg onto a slightly elevated object, such as a brick or stool, while holding onto a wall or sturdy piece of furniture to maintain balance. Slightly bend the knee of the other leg until there is a stretch in the injured leg. Hold for 10–20 seconds.
- Sitting hamstring stretch. Sit upright in a sturdy chair, and place the foot of the uninjured leg flat on the ground with the knee bent. Then, straighten the injured leg, slowly raising the foot until it extends straight out or until extending the leg is no longer comfortable. Hold for 10–20 seconds.
- Hurdler hamstring stretch. Sit on the floor and extend the legs straight out. Bend and lift the knee of the uninjured leg, then allow it to fall to the side. Lean slightly forward until there is a stretch in the injured leg. Hold for 10–20 seconds.
Tendonitis tends to be a chronic condition. As a result, although home remedies and other treatments may help with tendonitis pain, surgery may offer the only cure.
Without treatment, tendonitis can become much worse, so it is important not to ignore signs of this condition. Pushing through pain when exercising can cause serious tendon injuries. Injuries to tendons can change how other muscles and tendons behave, increasing the risk of injury and pain in other areas of the body.
With prompt treatment, it is possible to minimize pain, promote healing, and reduce the risk of long-term injuries. A doctor can help a person decide on the right course of treatment.
Tendonitis can make exercise feel impossible, and it may interfere with everyday activities, such as walking and driving.
A person does not have to live with the pain of untreated tendonitis. Although this condition is sometimes chronic, many home and medical remedies can help with the pain and prevent the condition from getting worse.
People with hamstring tendonitis should see a doctor for symptom relief and help with developing a treatment plan.