How I Healed My Hamstrings
I pulled my right hamstring so badly once that it bled under my skin.
Let me tell you the story so you learn what NOT to do.
I used to be so stiff, I literally could not bend forward, my back would curl up like a cat and my hands would touch just below my knees.
Glad those days are gone.
I also didn’t know anything about stretching. I’d done lots of running, swimming, and even some weights, but I had no idea how stretching worked.
Ok, enough beating around the bush. Here’s what happened:
This girl talked me into going to yoga, and she was pretty good. I was like this big white whale dripping with sweat and grunting like a wrestler attempting these super-basic poses.
Not quite the image I was going for…
… and worse yet, I got so sore after my first classes, I couldn’t walk straight. No exaggeration here, I was limping down New York City’s streets just trying to walk the 1/2 mile from my apartment to work.
So what did I do? I took 2 Advil.
When that didn’t help, I took 4 more. Before class that next evening, I took 6 more. Stupid, I know, but I didn’t want to admit that I was too swore for a little stretching…
… so I kept popping Advil, kept flopping through class like a beached whale, and each day, I tugged on my hamstrings with every ounce of strength I could muster.
LESSON #1: Never underestimate the power of painkillers
I went on for weeks like this until one day, standing in line for the shower, my teacher said, “what’s that?”
I was still spinning from class and only half-conscious so when I saw the pool of blood gathered behind my right knee, I figured it was just bruise or something.
“I think you should get that checked out,” he said. And that’s when I started to wonder… could I be bleeding? Inside?
Yup, I was. I’d torn my hamstring up so badly I had internal bleeding, massive swelling, and constant pain for about 6 months, and then on-and-off for about a year.
The doctor’s told me to quit yoga. He told me my hamstring was so damaged, it’d never be strong again. I fired my doctor.
A sports therapist was next. He did these ultra-sound sessions that made it worse, so I fired my sports therapist.
My chiropractor gave me some wimpy exercises designed for couch potatoes with 80% body fat. So I fired him too.
LESSON #2: Degree or no degree, stiff people know nothing about flexibility
Sometimes, if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. I read tons of stuff about hamstrings and talked to dancers and martial arts people to see how they healed their hamstrings, and I figured it out.
So let me get right into it and tell you how I fixed my hamstrings (yes, I ended up pulling the left
ICE: This is helpful the first few days only. After that, I find it totally pointless. Alternating ice/heat is meant to increase circulation, but most of these routines are prescribed by doctors who feel like they need to have some advice for their patients who, for the most part, don’t actually move except to grab some bonbons from the freezer on commercial breaks…
… so yeah, ice it good and cold the first few days, but after that, lose the ice.
DON’T STOP STRETCHING: Everyone I talked to including yoga teachers told me to stop practicing until it healed. There were two fundamental problems with this.
(a) By that time, I was totally hooked on yoga and hated missing even one day of practice
(b) While resting did help it heal, as soon as I’d do anything, my hammy’s would flare up just like before *Don’t get me wrong here. If you absolutely quit doing anything and “lay flat” for 2 months, your hamstring will heal. It’ll heal fast and hard and tight, but as soon as soon as you try to use it again, it’s going to hurt.
FORGET MASSAGES: I know I’ll get hate mail for saying this, but I’ve pulled a bunch of muscles (being stupid mostly) and massages never helped. They’ll talk to you about “breaking up the scar tissue” and “balancing the energy,” but honestly, digging your thumbs into a bruised hamstring proved counter-productive for me.
NO HOT YOGA: The heat along with stretching can make even the most bruised-up tissues feel strong and limber. It’s a weird thing, but if you pull your hamstring, stay out of the heat for at least 2-4 weeks. You won’t know your limits, and you’ll wake up in a serious world of hurt.
NO JOGGING: Jogging is pretty tough on a bruised hamstring so don’t do it. Walking is good though.
CYCLE & SWIM: Both cycling and swimming are great for gentling strengthening your hamstrings, and you want to start this within a week of injury. On a bike, just cruise around (nothing hardcore). In the pool, get a kick board and do laps. That up/down motion is great on the backs of the legs.
FORGET THE ‘EXPERTS': People go to doctors looking for quick fixes and cures, not prevention or long-term health plans. It’s as much our fault as it is theirs, but just remember that no ultrasound machine or sports therapy session even comes close to a very conscious yoga practice (at least from what I’ve seen).
POWER YOUR QUADS: Your quads (fronts of legs) are the opposing muscles to the hamstrings, so you want to engage them as hard as you can every time you’re folding forward. Sometimes, it can be helpful to literally grab your quads and squeeze them tight to feel the strength balancing out the weakness.
BEND YOU KNEES: With a slightly bent knee, your quads automatically engage a little thus protecting your hamstring. Micro-bend your knees in all your forward bends (even if your teacher yells at you:)
HEALING TIME: It all depends on how bad it is. A small strain might heal in 1-3 weeks, a pull could take 2-3 months, and a true tear usually will take 6-18 months to fully heal. Sounds depressing, I know, but if you follow the routine above, after about 4-6 weeks, you can do everything you did before, you’ll just “feel” your hamstring and will have to back off to make sure you don’t go backwards with your healing.
SUPPLEMENTS & MEDICINE: People do get steroid shots and things, but I wouldn’t go that route. As soon as you can, get off all painkillers as well. Supplements were really helpful for me. Here’s what I used:
Pineapple (one whole one per day) – Very high in the enzyme bromelain that helps inflammation and tissue regeneration.
MSM -2000-3000 mg/day (same dosage as in YOAGBODY). Be careful as crappy brands will give you terrible gas and bloating. In my formula, we cut it with Vit C and Greens for maximum effect.
Vit C – 500 mg buffered so it’s easier to digest.
Green Juice – Just cause it’s always good;)
Spouted Rice Protein – This one is new to me, and very helpful. Difficult to find, but 15-30 grams per day is great. I’m creating a special YOGA PROTEIN formula in about 4 weeks, so I’ll give you more info then.
Yoga, like any kind of physical practice, is going to open you up to injuries. The truth is, injuries are really rare, and as long as you take care of yourself, they often end up helping your body to balance itself out in the long run.
That’s a whole other discussion we can get into later…
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