What's with the Dolphins' Hamstrings -- A Doctor's Perspective

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What is a hamstring and what does the body use the hamstring for?

The hamstring muscle group is a powerful pair of muscles that attach at the top to your pelvic bone and at the bottom just below your knee.  They are primarily responsible for powerfully flexing/bending your knee or supporting your knee when the knee is bent.

What causes the hamstring to “pull” and why do they call it a “pulled hamstring”?

If the hamstring is too vigorously contracted (to move the knee), some of the muscle fibers may be torn and that results in the colloquial term of “pull.”  The correct medical terms would be “strain” for milder injuries and “partial tear” for more significant injuries.  The hamstrings can also be injured if stretched to vigorously, as when a football player has his knee straightened out while being hit or tackled when the knee should otherwise be flexed/bent.  That violent stretch on the muscle can cause it to tear.

How can an athlete prevent a hamstring pull? 

Great hamstring strength balanced with great hamstring flexibility and  appropriate overall conditioning are the best preventative measures.

I have heard that hamstring pulls can be related to improper hydration — is there any truth to that?

Muscles tend to cramp up in the setting of dehydration.  If the hamstring already is contracting because of dehydration, then it’s all the more susceptible to the straining or tearing mechanisms previously discussed.

Is there any significance to the fact that many offensive running backs and defensive backs (corners and safeties) in the NFL are suffering from hamstring pulls and not many offensive and defensive linemen?

Yes.  Those “skill players” run further on each play and have a far greater tendency to explosive, direction-changing movements of the knee and leg which put the hamstring at risk.

How does an athlete rehab a hamstring pull?

Time up front to let the muscle settle down, then slowly progressive stretching and strengthening activities, followed by low-level resumption of sport-specific activities until they can resume full speed, explosive movements without pain or dysfunction.

How long does rehabilitation usually take?

Typically 2-6 weeks depending on severity.

In your expert opinion, could the lack of team OTAs (organized training activities) contributed to the rash of hamstring pulls in the NFL this year?

Yes – some athletes will work hard on their own in preparation, regardless of OTAs, but others will not and they are in less favorable shape and more prone to injury.

In your expert opinion, could the shortened training camps contributed to the rash of hamstring pulls in the NFL this year?

Yes – compacted preparation changes the nature of each workout session, and also simply allows less time for the training/adaptation back to football that helps to prevent injury.

In your expert opinion, could the absense of two-a-day workouts contributed to the rash of hamstring pulls in the NFL this year?

No – probably helps the injury rate, not the other way around.


I would like to let this interview stand on its merits allowing readers to draw their own conclusions as related to the Miami players currently suffering from hamstring injuries, the players who are not, and the coaching staff charged with their preparation.  I will say that I am concerned about a couple of players (Thomas and Davis) who may have returned too soon and re-aggrevated their injuries.  I believe that Dr. MacKnight’s answers are very telling about the consequences of the NFL lockout this season and its affect on player preparation.  Hopefully, the Miami offensive and defensive backs will, at a minimum, better hydrate before the remaining games.

What do you think?


I would like to publicly thank Dr. John MacKnight for contributing to the fans understanding of hamstrings and hamstring pulls.  He is likely very busy with the UVA Football Team and their success this season.  I am grateful for his time.


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Tags: Cameron Wake Charles Clay Chris Clemons Daniel Thomas Dr. John MacKnight Hamsting Pulls Hamstring Jeff Ireland Miami Dolphins NFL Tony Sparano University Of VIrginia UVA Medical Center Vonte Davis Will Allen

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