New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has been limited in practice by a lingering hamstring injury, and there are questions as to whether he will be ready to play in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Patriots have not disclosed the nature of Gronkowski’s injury—and we will not speculate on what type of injury he may have suffered. But with hamstring injuries back in the news, we thought it would be a good time to discuss risk factors for a common type of hamstring injury: a hamstring tear.
A hamstring tear can happen to any athlete, but if you’re aware of the risk factors you may be able to reduce your chances of suffering this type of injury.
Risk factors for a hamstring tear
The following risk factors make it more likely that you will have a hamstring tear:
- Prior hamstring tear. Compared to someone who has not torn their hamstring, you’re 2 to 6 times more likely to tear your hamstring if you have previously experienced this type of injury.
- Weakness and fatigue. Tired or fatigued muscles may lead to alterations in your biomechanics—such as your running form—and increase your risk for injury.
- Poor warm-up. Muscles that have not been properly warmed up are less flexible—this makes it more likely that you will suffer a hamstring tear.
- Dehydration. If you are dehydrated, your hamstring muscles are more prone to cramping—and thus more prone to a tear.
- Existing lower limb injury. Existing lower limb injuries, such as a sprained ankle, can increase the stress on your hamstrings as your body compensates for the injury. This increases the chances of a hamstring tear in the same or opposite limb.
Preventing hamstring tears
In light of the risk factors for a hamstring tear, you may be able to prevent initial or recurrent hamstring tears through a regular conditioning program that incorporates the following:
- Flexibility training
- Eccentric strength training
- Neuromuscular training (balance and coordination)
Diagnosing a hamstring tear
If you suspect you have a hamstring tear, a doctor will likely conduct a physical exam to help determine the location and severity of your injury. You may be asked to perform a variety of physical movements during this exam to help your doctor determine the severity of your injury.
Your doctor may also order an imaging test, such as an X-ray or an MRI, to determine the precise location of your injury.