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I have been scouring the internet to find an appropriate course of treatment for a sore (very) hamstring in my right leg. I ran a 1/2 marathon on Saturday and I am still in pain, especially after being off my feet for any peiod of time. It has been getting progressively more sore for over a week. Of course, it hurt before I started but I ran the 1/2 anyway.
The treatment advice I found online is either ice or heat. Stay off it or keep running. So which is it? Any stories of what worked for you would be most gratefully appreciated.
I have a 5 miler this Sunday and want to be able to run it, if possible, without making the hamstring too much worse.
Well, I know this is too late for the 5-miler, but hamstring pain tends to come and go slowly anyway. While I can't point you to a magical cure, I can say with certainty that all those cures you mentioned worked at least somewhat for somebody. Let's look at the advantages of each, and I'll pick a favorite.
Ice: Slows inflammation in the form of swelling. Can be used to constrict blood flow, or to increase it by reaction, depending on use. Controls pain... If you've got obvious swelling due to an acute injury like a hamstring tear, the medics would be applying ice. Lots of athletes use ice for the numbing effect, the cooling effect, and I suppose, the placebo effect as well. If your injury is not in the acute stage, it is best used in contrast with heat.
Heat: Increases superficial blood flow, can intensify inflammation. Relaxes tight muscles... If you do not have acute swelling/inflammation, you may find the relaxation effect removes the source of pain, which may be tight muscle tissue under stress. Any increase in inflammation may be beneficial, since that is your body's mechanism of repair. If pain or swelling increases upon application of heat, stop using it and revert to ice. Contrast therapies involving alternate applications of ice and heat, generally beginning and ending with heat, have been effective at encouraging vasodilation for better blood flow. In most cases, increased blood flow helps injuries heal. This assumes that you immune system is healthy and you do not have an autoimmune disorder.
Stay off it: Can be good advice in the acute stage of a more serious injury, unless staying off it includes too much sitting. Most people sit on their hamstrings, which doesn't do much for circulation there. Ditto for driving.
Keep running: As long as the intensity is lower than what led to the injury in the first place, mild activity will probably not hurt. Compared to complete inactivity, running easy will probably help model the healing tissue in a more organized fashion, as unstressed collagen tends to heal chaotically. Even walking can help if running is too painful. In both cases, circulation is again improved.
In your case, I favor heat or contrast above simple icing. I also think your description of the injury indicates continued activity at a diminished intensity. Put the ego aside and just heal. While you are at it, learn the art of self-massage. Some use foam-rollers; I just use my hands, sometimes in the shower with soap and water. Learn to cup your hands in a way that focus pressure that will be used to encourage venous and lymphatic flow while your muscle is at rest. This gives you the circulatory benefits without the wear and tear. To insure this, make sure all strokes are in the direction of venous flow, toward the heart, to get these benefits and protect the valves.
When you drive, arrange your seat in such a way to keep pressure off the hamstrings. If it's on the right side, use cruise control as much as possible. There should be no safety hazard using the other foot to hold the break pedal at stop lights. When my hammies are sore, I cup my hand under them for massage during stop lights. I once rode a few hours to a marathon doing this periodically, and ran without pain the next day for a BQ. Not a panacea, but it helps. Good luck!
I just wanted to take the time to get back to you since you so graciously took the time to give me such sound advice. After I read your post I made an appt with a PT. We are working on getting me back running at full speed in a couple of month's time. THANK YOU for your post as it really was the thing that got me "off my butt", so to speak, and to the doc for eval and PT. I hope to be ready for more races by mid summer.