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What causes that muscle cramp or “charlie horse”?


By: Jeremy Schain, DPT

Without a doubt, many of you throughout the course of your lives have suffered a“Charlie horse” or “pulled a hamstring” while running, playing a sport, performing activity or simply while going about your daily life. Have you ever wondered what causes this to occur? Furthermore, how can they be treated and how can they be prevented in the future?

The hamstring is actually a group of three muscles:

  • The biceps femoris
  • The semitendinosis
  • The semimembranosis)

These muscles work together to bend the knee as well as extend the hip. They are a powerful group of muscles that undergo significant stress when we perform physical activities such as running, jumping, pivoting or moving heavy objects. As such, when they become over-stretched, over-stressed or overly-relied upon, they can spasm/cramp (a “charlie horse”) or become strained.

A major root cause for these hamstring injuries often is a weakness in the gluteal muscles and other muscles in the hip. When these muscles are weak and failing to do their job properly, the body can become over-reliant on using the hamstring to extend and stabilize the hip. Unfortunately, this leads to painful hamstring strains. Strengthening the gluteal muscles, therefore, is a great way to prevent hamstring injuries. Additionally, stretching the hamstring regularly before and after physical activity is another great preventive technique, to ensure that the tissues are warm, pliable and able to complete their required job.

If you do suffer a hamstring strain, physical therapy is a great way to ensure a complete recovery. In physical therapy, we use soft tissue techniques to advance tissue healing, train the hamstring to regain its strength and also strengthen gluteal and core muscles to help prevent re-injury in the future. If you or someone you know has suffered a hamstring strain, call us at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center and we will be happy to help you achieve full recovery.

CLICK HERE for more on how physical therapy can help you.

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