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Pulled Hamstring (cont.)

How Do Health Professionals Diagnose a Pulled Hamstring (Hamstring Injury)?

A pulled hamstring is diagnosed by history and physical examination. The circumstances of the injury will give a clue as to the type of injury, while the physical examination will be used to grade the amount of damage to the muscle or tendon.

The health-care professional may ask question about the circumstances of the injury to analyze the mechanism of injury, and review what home treatments were attempted. Past medical history may also be important since previous injury or arthritis of the back, hip, or knee can decrease range of motion and flexibility of the muscles, causing the hamstring to become more prone to injury.

Physical examination often consists of touching (palpation) the muscle to assess swelling and tenderness. Grade 2 or 3 tears may have a defect or divot that can be felt along the course of the muscle, confirming the diagnosis. Range of motion of the back, hip, and knee may be tested with and without resistance, trying to unmask pain that is not necessarily appreciated by palpation.

Often the doctor will lay the patient prone (flat on their stomach) and bend the knee to 90 degrees. This relaxes the hamstring muscles and may minimize muscle spasm. The hamstring muscles can then be felt and a potential defect appreciated.

Other potential sources of pain may be considered, and the physical examination will help to differentiate a pulled hamstring from bone or joint pain. Sciatica, a pain that originates in the nerves as they leave the spinal canal in the low back, can also mimic hamstring injury.

Most patients do not need further testing. If there is concern that the pain is due to an avulsion fracture or other injury to the pelvis, femur, or knee, X-rays may be suggested. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is able to evaluate the extent of muscle and tendon injury but is not necessary for most patients. In elite athletes, MRI scanning can be used to help plan rehabilitation, time to recovery, and return to competition.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/11/2015

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