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Improving Hamstring Strength Pre-Season Significantly Lowers Injury Risk

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A hamstring injury – a strain or tear to the tendons or large muscles at the back of the thigh – is common among athletes and can be extremely painful.

The injury can also take a while to heal, and the rate of reinjury is high. However, new research from Australia offers hope that more can be done to prevent hamstring injuries.

Researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane used an innovative field device to measure the eccentric hamstring strength of more than 200 Australian football players from five professional clubs. They found that higher levels of eccentric hamstring strength in pre-season could dramatically reduce a player´s chances of suffering a hamstring injury during the football season.

“We showed, for the first time, that hamstring injury risk can be quantified by measuring an athlete´s hamstring strength when they´re performing the Nordic hamstring curl exercise,” explained Dr Anthony Shield from QUT´s School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.

Players considered to have a weak hamstring in early pre-season testing had a 2.7 times greater risk of suffering a hamstring injury than stronger players.

“The greater the athlete´s hamstring strength, the less likely they were to injure their hamstring, with the probability of a hamstring strain injury dropping to less than 10% in the strongest athletes,” Dr Shield added.

The research showed that improving hamstring strength by 10 Newtons decreased the risk of hamstring injury by approximately 9%. This means that improving eccentric hamstring strength through exercises such as the Nordic curl would effectively counter the additional risk associated with having a prior hamstring injury. Players new to the exercise could improve hamstring strength by 30 Newtons in a month, Dr Shield believes.

The results of the study have been e-published in sports medicine journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, and accepted for publication in an upcoming print edition.