Unfortunately, hamstring strains are both common and painful. They strike athletes of all sorts — including runners, skaters, and football, soccer, and basketball players.

But what is a hamstring? It isn’t actually a single ”string.” It’s a group of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh. They allow you to bend your leg at the knee.

During a hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles gets overloaded. The muscles might even start to tear. You’re likely to get a hamstring strain during activities that involve a lot of running and jumping or sudden stopping and starting.

Getting a hamstring strain is also more likely if:

  • You don’t warm up before exercising.
  • The muscles in the front of your thigh (the quadriceps) are tight as they pull your pelvis forward and tighten the hamstrings.
  • Weak glutes. Glutes and hamstrings work together. If the gluts are weak, hamstrings can be over loaded and become strained.

What Does a Hamstring Strain Feel Like?

Mild hamstring strains may not hurt too much. But severe ones can be agonizing, making it impossible to walk or even stand.

Other possible symptoms of a hamstring strain are:

  • Sudden and severe pain during exercise, along with a snapping or popping feeling
  • Pain in the back of the thigh and lower buttock when walking, straightening the leg, or bending over
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising

To diagnose a hamstring strain, a doctor or physical therapist will give a thorough physical exam. He or she will ask specific questions about how the leg was injured.