Treating pulled hamstrings and groins

Pulling a groin or hamstring is a very common sports injury (second to twisted ankle). Everyone who plays sports long enough will eventually pull a groin or tear a hamstring. We have had a number of these injuries personally and with our athletes and have learned quite a lot from experience and from some of the top NFL physicians and trainers.

Note: This is not to be misconstrued as medical advice, please see your physician for more information.

Traditionally, most physicians and trainers will tell you to stretch out your injured groin or hamstring. This is absolutely wrong! You should never do this and it will prolong the healing process. We figured this out with our athletes after a number of these injuries, but we never knew why. We noticed that if we didn’t do anything, the injured groin or hammy healed much faster than all the stretching and “treatments”.

Fast forward to medical school and NFL trainers

Dr. Robert Kappler, the Chicago Bears team doctor in the 1980s during their super bowl run, and the chairman of the Midwestern University’s Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine department, taught us that you never stretch out torn hamstrings and groins. He shared tons of stories of when he used to treat and work on the Bears star players, Michael “Refrigerator” Perry and Walter “Sweetness” Payton. Media reports and other teams would expect a player to be out for 5-6 weeks, and they were back on the field in 2 weeks. He had discovered an innovative system.

He has worked on huge athletes and small ones (in terms of size) and has years and years of experience. He has published research articles, written chapters and books on Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment and treatment of sports injuries as well as other topics. He is a great teacher and an asset to the world of sports medicine.

A “pulled muscle” is a tear in the muscle fibers. You have different degrees of torn muscles, but usually they aren’t the extremely severe type. When you tear muscle fibers, an inflammatory process ensues and you have to try and contain it, before more tissue damage occurs. Stretching a torn muscle only causes more tearing, more injury and more trauma. If an athlete pulls a hamstring, then starts stretching it, the athlete is just adding insult to injury by tearing more muscle fibers. Stretching the muscle is the same motion that caused the tear in the first place.

Dr. Kappler teaches that these type of injuries need to be treated by shortening the muscles, not outstretching them. So, if you pull your hamstring or groin, you need to shorten it, by bringing the ankle towards the buttock on that side. Shorten the muscle. Same with the groin. Don’t stretch it out and spread your legs and tear more fibers, just relax, bring your leg towards the center and give it a rest.

Over the years, we had athletes that would injure their groins and tweak a hamstring and would try all kinds of treatments (before we knew what we were doing). We tried stretching, physical therapy and even tried doing nothing at all. We never knew why doing nothing seemed to work very well and allowed our kids to heal faster. When we actually tried the stretching routine and rehab, it just didn’t seem to heal as fast and added many weeks to the process.

Unfortunately, many high school football coaches and medical trainers are wrong when it comes to treating groins and hamstrings. In fact, till this day many college programs still have it backwards. Whereas in the NFL it seems that most programs have it figured out, except for the Minnesota Vikings, who continually mistreat their running backs hamstrings.

So how do you treat a pulled hamstring or groin?

1. Shorten the muscle. Don’t stretch it.
2. Take lots of anti-inflammatory drugs, Naprosyn or Ibuprofen.
3. Ice for pain in first 24 hours.
4. Heat pads for relaxing the muscle (allows quicker healing) after the initial 24 hours.
5. Rest!

Note: This is not to be misconstrued as medical advice, please see your physician for more information.

Editor in Chief

We've been coaching and playing football since the 1980s. Many of our staff are highly specialized sports trainers, athletes, sports medicine physicians, parents, and coaches. We love playing football and love writing about football.