By Amy McGorry
Everyone's talking about "twerking" these days, but since postseason baseball is in full swing, let's switch the subject to tweaking -- your hamstring, that is.
Hamstring injuries are one of the most common injuries in baseball, affecting pitchers and position players alike. Pulled hamstrings, for instance, can sideline a player for several weeks, and the injury has a tendency to recur.
Hamstring strains and tears aren't seen only in baseball, however. In fact, they're prevalent in all sports that involve sudden starts and stops, like tennis, running, soccer, football and water skiing. Luckily, there are steps that both professional athletes and weekend warriors can take to avoid these nagging injuries.
When Hamstrings Are A Pain
The hamstring group consists of three muscles in the back of your leg. When you're in motion -- running, say -- hamstrings move in two ways: They shorten when you bend your knee and extend your hips, and they lengthen to help slow down the knee joint and absorb impact smoothly.
The hamstrings work in concert with the quadriceps muscles in the front of your leg, which straighten the knee. Studies have shown that injuries often occur when an imbalance exists between the strength of the hamstrings and the quadriceps.
When you take off into an explosive run, for instance, the quadriceps muscles contract rapidly. If your hamstrings are overpowered by the pull of the quadriceps, your hamstrings may tear as they try to control the deceleration phase of the running gait.
Why You're Sidelined
Picture a baseball player running to first base. He goes into a sudden sprint. The quadriceps are called into action to propel the run, and his hamstrings counter the pull of the quadriceps (much like a stagecoach driver pulling up the reins on a horse).
If the player's hamstrings are weak or fatigued, they can't handle the force generated by the quadriceps. The player may feel a pop or a twinge in the back of his leg, and see bruising in this area. Strains range from mild grade 1 tears with some discomfort to severe grade 3 tears where the athlete can't even bear to put weight on the injured leg.
The healing time for a torn hamstring depends on where the tear occurs. If the thick middle part of the muscle is torn, recovery could take about 4 to 6 weeks. But if the injury occurs near the ends of the muscle, where it meets the tendon, the tear will take longer to heal due to the lack of blood supply in this type of tissue.
How To Stay In The Game
"It's like déjà vu all over again," baseball legend Yogi Berra is famously credited with saying. The same phrase could apply to the high recurrence rates of hamstring injuries in baseball.
Some studies suggest this high percentage is due to hamstring scarring after the initial injury. Scar tissue that doesn't elongate properly can trigger further tears.
That's why you need to "ham it up" when it comes to your workout. Building your hip flexibility and strength can reduce your risk of hamstring problems. These exercises can help as well:
Prone Concentric Knee Flexion And Eccentric Knee Extension
- Lie facedown with a pillow under your stomach (ankle weights optional)
- Keep your back flat and bend your knee (concentric workout)
- Now lower leg your leg slowly (eccentrically)
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps each
Single Leg Deadlifts
- Stand on one leg with your arms above your head
- Bend and touch the ground with your hands, kicking your other leg back as you do so (don't let your hips wobble!)
- Do 5 reps
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on floor
- Lift your buttocks up toward ceiling, keeping your hips level
- Slowly lower your buttocks to ground
- Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 reps each
Always check with a physician prior to starting any exercise program. And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!