NFL Rookie Hamstrings Beware

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Source: Pixabay

Dear Rookie Hamstrings,

We all know the deal.  You busted your ass all last summer, during a long and stress-filled season, into the high-intensity NFL Combine and all the way to your big Pro Day.  It’s been at least 9 solid months of hard work with one goal in mind: “Get into the NFL!!”

Since your last Pro Day, things have certainly changed, huh?  You flew all over the country to meet & greet with NFL teams, your high intensity workouts/rehab routines were put on the back burner, your “social gatherings” with your family and friends were ramped up, you were super busy with your school work (wink, wink) and we all knew that your strict nutritional plan was put on hold.

I can’t say I blame you after the impressive effort you put into the past year.

Congrats, man, you’ve been Drafted or invited to this weekend’s Mini Camp with your new NFL team.  Approximately 0.08% of high school football players get Drafted into the NFL so you have plenty to be proud of!

Wakeup Call

The party’s over.

The hoopla and the hundreds of texts from the festive weekend have faded.  Now it’s time to get back to work.  Your first major step to making your new team starts this weekend:  Your first Mini Camp.  As you enter that new facility, you will quickly realize that everything around you has changed.  From the color of your jersey to how you get your ankles taped to verbage in your playbook, life is different now.

The Truth

While you were celebrating, your new team was planning out every one of your drills, team plays and workout reps for this weekend’s Mini Camp.

While you were toasting with your friends and family, your new team’s coaches, scouts, GM’s and owners were raising your expectations before you even got on the plane.

Hamstring Strains

In my 26 years as an athletic trainer and physical therapist in the NFL, I treated hundreds of hamstring strains in Mini Camps.  About 70% of those strained hamstrings involved rookies.  Why did I consistently see very high numbers of torn hamstrings during the first Mini Camp?  I believe it’s based on the following formula:

Deconditioned Post-Draft Rookie + Fired-Up NFL Coaches + High Tempo Competitive Drills/Practices + Dehydration = Torn Hamstring

Game Planning for Healthy Hamstrings

1.  Stay Well Hydrated – My “50/50 Rules”: Consistently drink 50% water & 50% Gatorade before, during and after all workouts, practices and games.  As for any supplements, leave them at home because they won’t help your hammy’s this weekend.

2.  Embrace Your New Athletic Trainers – NFL athletic trainers are the best in the business.  Their job is to keep you healthy.  Consistently seek their advice, learn from them and benefit from their expert care.

3.  Freeze ’em – Use the team’s cold tank after every workout and practice.  Sure it hurts getting into 48 degree water.  If it’s too cold for you, you can either:  “grow a pair” or be plenty warm enough on your couch come September.

4.  Commit to a Routine – The very successful veteran NFL players I’ve had the pleasure of working with all had one thing in common:  They all had a routine they did every day.  It wasn’t a routine they did when they felt they needed it or for that big game or when they were sore.  They did it EVERY day.  Be one of those guys.

Welcome to the big league, gentlemen.  Now it’s time for you and your hamstrings to show ’em why you’re here.

Top 5 Factors Causing Hamstring Strains

Source: Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

 “What’s he got?” the coach shouts with frustration as I approached with my exam findings of the injured football player.

Before I could even start with my reply, he barked back with double the volume and triple the disgust; “It’s a damn hammy, isn’t it?!”

That conversation, if you want to call it one, took place more often than I want to admit over the past 20 years as Head Athletic Trainer/Physical Therapist with the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Strained hamstrings have a way of adding to the stress level of everyone as the player, the coaches and the athletic trainers continue to search for the mystery cause and illusive solution.

Training Camp Strained Hamstrings

This year’s NFL Training Camps are producing more pulled hamstrings than anyone expected.  Reading over the NFL injury reports this weekend, only a week into a long season, it’s hard to find any teams without at least a couple of players not practicing because of a strained hamstrings.

What the Hell are the Hamstrings?

That’s not a typo.  It’s supposed to be plural because there are three (3) muscles that make up the hamstrings located on the backside of the thigh.  All three muscles originate on the lower back of the pelvis and extend below the knee behind the upper calf muscle.  Two of those hamstring muscles pass the knee on the inner or medial side while the third “hammy” inserts on the outer or lateral upper shin above the lateral calf muscle belly.

Simplifying the Function of the Hammies:

(in order of their importance for a football player)

  • Decelerate or slow down the extension (straightening) motion of the knee while running.
  • Assist in extending the hip.
  • Bending the knee.
  • Assist in rotating the shin in relationship with the femur or thigh bone while changing direction.

Terminology Check

Strain (medical) = Tweak (optimistic player) = Pull (pessimistic player) = Tear (bar guy)

They all simply mean that some of the muscle fibers within any of the three hamstring muscles has been torn.  More fibers torn means more bleeding, more pain, more weakness, more loss of function and more downtime.

Factors Contributing to NFL Hamstring Strains

  1. Fatigue – Weaker muscles are vulnerable muscles.  Have you noticed most NFL players with hamstring strains are the players in the skilled, speed positions?  The wide receivers, defensive backs and running backs typically head the list of positions who suffer most of the pulled hamstrings.  They are running and changing directions fast on every play.   When their muscles fatigue the important role of the hamstring is magnified, increasing the potential for fiber failure.
  2. Dehydration – Muscle dehydration is grossly overlooked in relationship with muscle strains.  Simply stated; a dehydrated muscle becomes less effective when forced to contract and relax quickly.  During high speeds and/or high volume activities the “drying up” of a muscle can quickly lead to a strain.
  3. Muscle Imbalance – Strong muscles tend to be tight muscles.  Weak muscles tend to be longer muscles.  When the strong or primary muscles, such as the hamstrings, are doing most of the work the less important muscles, such as the hip rotators or lower Abs, often become too weak.  This imbalance, much like a shimmy in your car, becomes worse high speeds.
  4. Poor Warm-up – Sweating on the outside doesn’t mean your muscles on the inside are prepared to contract/relax at full throttle.  A player who’s been standing around for 10 minute and is suddenly thrown in for a special teams play or a high-intensity drills is immediately at risk for a hamstring injury.
  5. Body Compensation – NFL players move very fast.  When the work load on hamstrings is high, other muscle such as the calves, groin and “glutes” (butt muscle) need to help more.  When other muscles above or below the hammies don’t do their job, the long hamstring muscles pay the price.

Strained hamstrings will tests the patience of the player, the athletic trainer and the coach.   Addressing these factors starting on Day #1 can help keep the players on the field and to help you avoid being the bearer of bad news.

 

TBD