Do you have a hamstring tear?
Over-stretching can easily damage your hamstrings and if you keep ‘trying to stretch them out’ they can get more damaged and take years to heal. Whenever you injure the body there is an “acute phase” of the injury where there is often pain and inflammation. During this acute phase it’s very important to rest – very little can be done.
Yoga is best avoided during the acute phase, unless you are very experienced and can practise in such a way as to cause no pain to the injured area. Avoid long walks and running as well as these will only exacerbate the injury. When you are “resting” the injury, it’s a good idea to keep the hamstring in a passively lengthened position – so this means, if you can, to sit with the leg straight at the knee with the hamstring lengthened, but not in a position of pain. Also in the acute phase it is not recommended to get any massage therapy as this may also exacerbate the inflammation. Gentle walking, gentle swimming are ok. The acute phase may take a week or so, to allow the injury to settle down. If you are so inclined then a short dose of anti-inflammatories can reduce the inflammation and shorten the acute phase.
Once the acute phase has calmed down you can return to class but you must be very careful. Definitely don’t try to stretch out a hamstring tear because it will slow down the healing process.
Minimize any sense of stretching at the back of the thigh in forward bends by pushing the sitting bones into your heels, by bending the knees slightly and plantarflexing the ankles (press the base of the big toe further away from you). In Yoga Synergy classes we encourage people with tight hamstrings to bend the knee as just described, so they can easily reach the heel without stress to the hamstring. Bending the knee puts the hamstring in a shortened position, which removes the danger of tearing or overstitching. However, when you have a hamstring injury sometimes it is best to keep the leg straight and have the hamstring in a gently lengthened position. Using a belt to reach the foot if the hamstring is also tight has been found to be less painful than bending the knee for many students with torn hamstrings. Its really trial and error and depends on what stage you are at with the tear, how flexible your hamstring is, and where the tear is in the muscle. It’s best to consult your teacher and work with them to see which method is best for you.
To strengthen the hamstring, which can help healing if done properly, stand on your good leg and step the bad leg about half a meter behind you and come to your toe tip, keep the hips level, keep your lower back lengthened by pushing the tailbone down and turn the thigh of the bad leg inwards (internally rotate the hip) and lift the leg off the floor with your knee straight. This can help your knee health too.
Thanks to Dhyan for this photo of Bianca Machliss and Simon Borg Olivier in Krounchasana some years ago.
You can learn more about the therapeutic applications of posture movement and breathing in our new online course: Yoga Therapy: Therapeutic Applications of Posture, Movement and Breathing.
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