Following a hamstring tear in late June, sprinter Usain Bolt has his sights set on a third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4x100-meter relay.
Bolt is reported to have made a full recovery, but here’s why you should be careful to not rush back from a hamstring tear:
3 grades of hamstring tears
Before we discuss the dangers of returning too early from your hamstring tear, let’s quickly look at how hamstring tears are classified.
Hamstring tears receive a grade classification according to the severity of the tear:
- Grade 1 is a strain of your muscle fibers
- Grade 2 is a partial tear of your muscle
- Grade 3 is a complete tear of your muscle
In general, the higher the grade of your tear the longer it will take you to recover from your injury. Bolt is reported to have suffered a grade 1 tear during a 100-meter semifinal heat at the Jamaican Olympic trials.
Risks of an early return from a hamstring tear
Bolt’s injury forced him to withdraw from the Jamaican Olympic trials—though he was still selected for the Jamaican national team. If you play a sport, you can likely sympathize with Bolt in regards to how frustrating it can be to miss even one practice or game.
While you may be itching to return, a premature comeback from a hamstring tear can lead to the following complications:
- Prolonged recovery time. An early return from your hamstring tear puts you at risk for re-injury—and your re-injured hamstring will typically take longer to heal than if you had waited until your initial tear was fully healed.1 So while you may think you're helping your team by returning quickly, you could end up having to sit on the sidelines for much longer.
- Long-term pain. While usually the result of repetitive stress, an improperly managed hamstring tear can lead to chronic high hamstring tendinopathy. Your recovery time from chronic high hamstring tendinopathy can take as long as 3 to 6 months, and many people report pain and discomfort well past the time frame.
Every person is different, so there is no rigid time table for returning to action after any grade of hamstring tear. But, if cleared by a doctor, it’s typically safe to return after your full range of motion is restored and you can complete all the functional movements your sport requires without pain or stiffness.