Hamstring Injuries: Not Just a Fantasy Football Problem
A quick review of NFL injury reports will show that hamstring injuries are one of the most frequent. This year’s who’s who list of hamstring injuries includes: Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Steven Jackson, Arian Foster, Michael Vick, Manny Lawson and Michael Boley. Hamstring strains do not seem as serious as an ACL tear or other injuries that require immediate surgery, but I would argue they can continue to impact a player’s performance once they return to play. For every plays who suffers this injury and returns to play safely there is another player that returns to play too soon, re-injures himself and spends more time on the injury report (See: Roddy White and Michael Vick).
I can speak from personal experience when I say deciding when to return athletes to play can be very challenging, no matter the sport or level. An athlete never wants to sit out a game when they feel they are ready, but return to play too soon and you could be riding the injury roller coaster all season. It is a delicate balance between giving the body the time it needs to heal (on average healing takes 4-6 weeks) and safely pushing the limits of an athlete’s ability. Knowing this and seeing the frequency of this injury in NFL players I wanted to take a look at what the research could tell us.
A literature review published last year makes the following points regarding injury rates, mechanisms, and risk factors (all sports included) for hamstring injuries:
- Mild and moderate hamstring injuries don’t often produce symptoms at rest or during activities of daily living, making return to play decisions difficult
- Analyzing NFL players from 1987 – 2000 demonstrated that hamstring injuries account for 10% – 13% of all injuries; 12% of injuries in training camp; overall injury rate of .77/1000 athlete exposures
- Depending on the sport (Australian Rules, Rugby, Soccer, etc.) hamstring re-injury risk ranges from 12% – 48%; these injuries are typically more severe and result in longer time lost
- Modifiable risk factors include shortened optimum muscle length, decreased muscle flexibility, strength imbalance, fatigue, or a low back injury
- Non-modifiable risk factors include age, race and previous injury history
- The older you are the more likely you are to suffer a hamstring injury, 25 years old seems to be a bench mark
- Athletes of African descent are more likely to suffer hamstring injuries than their Caucasian counterparts (in some sports it’s as high as 4 times)
Understanding how to prevent these injuries and rehabilitate them is beyond the scope of this blog post, but if you’d like to learn more here are some resources you should check out.
- Platelet-Rich Plasma in Addition to Rehabilitation for Acute Hamstring Injuries in NFL Players: Clinical Effects and Time to Return to Play
- Clinical Predictors of Time to Return to Competition and of Recurrence Following Hamstring Strain in Elite Australian Footballers
It is obvious that hamstring injuries will continue to be a challenge for athletes and those who take care of them. The focus becomes 1) how to better rehabilitate the initial injury to prevent recurrence and 2) to avoid suffering the injury in the first place. Hamstring injuries don’t only raise red flags for those of us making fantasy football decisions each week, but they have real-life implications for our favorite teams and athletes. Sometimes it may be better to sit one more game to assure a full return, but I acknowledge the difficulty in that decision for all the elite athletes out there who feel the pressure to play. Make an educated decision.