The Nets’ elimination from the playoffs on Saturday night was brutal for many die-hard fans to witness, but none so much as Nets player James Harden. It did reveal, however, that the star player’s hamstring injury was causing him to suffer far more than what had been initially stated.
While the Nets’ official statement was that Harden is simply dealing with “right hamstring tightness”, it was admitted by Harden himself in the post-game interview that his injury is far more serious.
So, just how serious is it? Well, Harden claims it is a grade 2 hamstring strain. No idea what that means? I didn’t either. But now that I’ve learned, I feel it is important to not only share just what that means, but also share the best methods to prevent this serious injury from happening to you, dear reader.
Types of Hamstring Strains
As someone who could not touch her toes for the better half a decade, I am no stranger to hamstring tightness. However, our hamstrings can cause a lot more suffering than the emotional suffering of being the least flexible person in your hot yoga class.
When not cared for properly, hamstrings can be pulled and torn, causing weeks or even months of grief and recovery time. This is why it’s important to understand the distinctions between the types of strains, as well as how to care for them.
Grade 1 Hamstring Strain
Also known as a pulled hamstring, this is the least serious (and most common) type of hamstring injury. It is often the result of not stretching before an intense workout or cardio session, or sprinting a little too hard with a tight hamstring.
Grade 1 Hamstring Strains may damage a few muscle fibers, but overall should not impede on your ability to walk or even exercise - you might be a little sore if you try to run, though.
Grade 2 Hamstring Strain
This type, unfortunately, is much more serious than a simple pulled hamstring - and is undoubtedly the cause of both the Nets’ and James Harden’s current woes. This is a moderate hamstring muscle strain in which the muscle has actually been partially torn - not just pulled.
Grade 2 Hamstring Strains almost certainly causes a limp when walking, and running is completely out of the question (which, from what I gather, is essential in basketball).
Grade 3 Hamstring Strain
This is where it gets really serious. The general level of this strain ranges from half of the muscle fibers being torn to a complete rupture of the muscle belly or tendon. With this severe injury, your hamstring muscles may make it impossible for you to walk or even stand.
If there is a complete tear, you should be able to notice an actual deformity in your leg. Grade 3 Hamstring Strains require immediate medical attention, as you need to get it reattached before you can repair it on your own.
How Long Does a Hamstring Strain Take to Heal?
As you can see, there are varying degrees of severity regarding injuries for our durable and oh-so-important hamstrings. With those varying degrees naturally comes a difference in healing time. The general breakdown of time you’ll spend in hamstring strain rehab (depending on type of strain) is this:
- Grade 1 Hamstring Strains: 2-3 weeks to full recovery
- Grade 2 Hamstring Strains: 3-8 weeks to full recovery
- Grade 3 Hamstring Strains: Up to 3 months to full recovery
It’s pivotal to note that this hamstring strain recovery time chart completely depends on how well you care for your injury (but don’t worry, we’ll get into that).
Only those who actually take care of their injury with diligent home therapy will see these optimal recovery times. Those who choose to ‘walk it off’, however, may find themselves having to ‘walk it off’ for years to come (That’s right, James Harden, I’m talking to you. The Nets need you, man.)
Hamstring Dos, Don’ts, and Qs:
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get to the meat of the matter. Just how do you take care of your hamstring muscles if they’re injured?
Well, again, it depends on the strain. Grade 1 tears will more often than not heal on their own. However, for those of us who are more ambitious, there are copious exercises you can do to help your grade 1 muscle strain heal quickly and make a full recovery.
For Grade 2 and 3 hamstring strains, you have to be a little more careful. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are key with these kinds of injuries. In the first month, it’s important to avoid excessive hamstring stretch exercises and heavy muscle activation. Adding on more trauma to a tear will only make the injury worse and elongate the healing process.
Is It Good to Massage a Hamstring Strain?
Yes. But only after the acute stage. A massage should NOT be done during the acute stage, as it may cause bleeding and prolong the healing process.
After the acute stage, a good massage can treat a hamstring strain by helping to remodel the scarring and increase muscle flexibility. It also works to help loosen scar tissue and tight muscles, stimulate blood flow, and stretch the muscles out.
Though I love a good professional sports massage as much as the next guy, I’m not made of money. For my own home treatment, I personally recommend the Vybe Pro Percussion Massage Gun to get the benefits of a top-notch massage from the comfort of my couch.
Should You Foam Roll a Hamstring Strain?
No. At least not within the first 5 days. Though foam rolling your hamstrings is a great pre-workout tool that feels great and can help you perform better, using it after you’ve recently pulled or torn your hamstring may worsen the injury, and certainly won’t help you heal any quicker. Massaging, stretching, compressing, icing, and resting are the way to go.
What Should You NOT Do With a Pulled Hamstring?
I’ve already gone over a couple for-sure-don’ts, immediately returning to exercise being one of them. However, it’s equally important that you don’t avoid exercise for too long, either! Instead of going all in or avoiding exercise altogether, you should start doing gentle hamstring stretches after a few days or when the pain has subsided.
Another common mistake people make is overstretching. Doing hamstring stretches is important, but overstretching is counterproductive and can do even more damage. There’s no need to test your hamstrings’ stretchability more than once or twice a day while it’s recovering - give it some time to breathe and rest!
The last thing is simple, but most often overlooked - don’t return back to sports too early (talking to YOU, James Harden)! Those who play on an injured hamstring may find themselves in a great deal more pain than they were in when they started. It's a great way to turn your Grade 2 Hamstring Strain into a Grade 3 in no time - and nobody wants that. Give your hamstring time to heal, and take the time you need before you play.
I can’t guarantee that James Harden will be back on the court any time soon, at least not with a Grade 2 Hamstring Strain - but I can guarantee that these tips can help you recover quickly from (or avoid entirely) any mild to moderate hamstring strains.
Though I wish I had written this article before Harden tore his hamstring, I can only hope that this will help any and all people stay out of harm's way so they too can return to their sport or activity of choice.
Now get back out there and get in the game!
Contributing Writer: Aurora Detor