Hamstring strain injuries: factors that lead to injury and re-injury
David A Opar; Morgan D Williams; Anthony J Shield.
Hamstring strain injuries (HSIs) are common in a number of sports and incidence rates have not declined in recent times. Additionally, the high rate of recurrent injuries suggests that our current understanding of HSI and re-injury risk is incomplete. Whilst the multifactoral nature of HSIs is agreed upon by many, often individual risk factors and/or causes of injury are examined in isolation. This review aims to bring together the causes, risk factors and interventions associated with HSIs to better understand why HSIs are so prevalent. Running is often identified as the primary activity type for HSIs and given the high eccentric forces and moderate muscle strain placed on the hamstrings during running these factors are considered to be part of the aetiology of HSIs. However, the exact causes of HSIs remain unknown and whilst eccentric contraction and muscle strain purportedly play a role, accumulated muscle damage and/or a single injurious event may also contribute. Potentially, all of these factors interact to varying degrees depending on the injurious activity type (i.e. running, kicking). Furthermore, anatomical factors, such as the biarticular organization, the dual innervations of biceps femoris (BF), fibre type distribution, muscle architecture and the degree of anterior pelvic tilt, have all been implicated. Each of these variables impact upon HSI risk via a number of different mechanisms that include increasing hamstring muscle strain and altering the susceptibility of the hamstrings to muscle damage. Reported risk factors for HSIs include age, previous injury, ethnicity, strength imbalances, flexibility and fatigue. Of these, little is known, definitively, about why previous injury increases the risk of future HSIs. Nevertheless, interventions put in place to reduce the incidence of HSIs by addressing modifiable risk factors have focused primarily on increasing eccentric strength, correcting strength imbalances and improving flexibility. The response to these intervention programmes has been mixed with varied levels of success reported. A conceptual framework is presented suggesting that neuromuscular inhibition following HSIs may impede the rehabilitation process and subsequently lead to maladaptation of hamstring muscle structure and function, including preferentially eccentric weakness, atrophy of the previously injured muscles and alterations in the angle of peak knee flexor torque. This remains an area for future research and practitioners need to remain aware of the multifactoral nature of HSIs if injury rates are to decline.