How Do I Fix Hamstring Pain When Running?
Make the Kinetic Chain stronger.
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Hamstring Pain When Running
Al had been running marathons and ultras for years. Prior to 2016, he’d run a marathon in every province in Canada! Unfortunately, though, he had to have a total hip replacement and was told never to run again.
Al followed the Doctor’s orders but after a couple of years of not running he found he was becoming fat and depressed (his words, not mine). After a number of conversations with his medical team, he decided he preferred the risk of wearing out his new hip to the certainty of being miserable.
He returned to running and slowly built himself back up to marathon training. Then he heard about something called the “Abbott Six”. A medal awarded to anyone who completes the 6 major marathons: New York, London, Tokyo, Chicago, Berlin and Boston.
Al already had New York under his belt and he was excited to raise money for the official charities and get his entry spots to the other five. He got his ticket to Tokyo and built up his training ready for the race. Unfortunately, he had awful pain in the hamstring of the leg where he had the hip replacement. He limped across the finish line and was in pain for days after.
Time to Quit?
Al has an excellent Physio where he lives who managed to get him up and running again after Tokyo, but he was really worried about continuing on to the other 4 marathons. He was registered for the Chicago Marathon in the Fall, but he wasn’t sure if it was a good idea.
I spoke with Al on a free call a few months after Tokyo. He told me all of the challenges he’d faced with his running over the last few years and why it was so important to him to keep going. He told me that the pain in his leg after Tokyo was so bad that he wanted to just quit running. On top of his worries that he was damaging his new hip, the pain in the hamstring just sapped all of the joy out of running.
It was really important to Al to have a big goal for his running. He knows he’s not the fastest runner, but he’s still an ambitious dude and he felt like the Abbott Six Medal was a real Bucket List Item for him. Something he could be proud of.
To miss out on it because of hamstring pain would suck pretty bad.
Al described how weak that leg felt. Doing lunges or getting up from the floor just felt way harder on that side. He’d done his rehab after the hip replacement, but he’d never really regained his full strength. He was worried about damaging his hip, so he wasn’t pushing it on the strength exercises.
I told Al that he had two problems. The first was weakness in the hamstring. That was causing it to be easily overloaded during the marathon and on longer/harder training runs.
Avoiding heavy exercises on that side had allowed the hamstring to become weaker. In the medical world, we call this stress-shielding. In the short term, it stops you from overloading the muscle and causing pain. In the long-term though, it allows the muscle to get weaker and makes it more vulnerable.
The second problem was weakness in the Kinetic Chain. The Kinetic Chain sounds like a really intimidating, complicated concept, but it’s actually pretty simple. Different muscles in different parts of the body work together to produce our movements. If one of those muscles isn’t pulling its weight, the other muscles have to work harder.
At the same time, if a bunch of muscles are weak, they’ll make it harder on all of the muscles in the kinetic chain. With Al for example, not only was his hamstring weak, but so were his glutes, adductors, calf, lower back and core muscles. So when he landed and pushed off when he was running, the hamstring was placed under even more stress.
So not only was the hamstring too weak to do its job, but the other muscles in the kinetic chain were actively making that job harder!
To fix the hamstring pain when running, we had to do two things.
- Strengthen the Hamstring
- Strengthen the Kinetic Chain
Al committed to doing two heavy strength sessions every week in addition to his marathon training for Chicago. We focused on exercises that would make the hamstring stronger as well as the kinetic chain muscles supporting it. Things like lunges, split squats and single-leg deadlifts. We progressed the weight as he got stronger to make sure he was always adapting.
The Chicago Marathon
Four months after he started with us Al ran the Chicago Marathon and only had a tiny bit of hamstring pain afterwards! Nothing like it was before. He finished strong and had a great time.
Al still has pain in the hamstring when driving and that leg still feels weaker on the lunges and getting up from the floor. He had a whole new joint put in. Then he had several years of deconditioning in those muscles due to the stress-shielding. Al’s aware that it will never be perfect, he just wants it to be good enough to keep him running marathons.
Al had already seen what would happen if he had to quit running. Taking those couple of years off after the hip replacement made him depressed. He gained a bunch of weight and became less healthy overall. That was after just a couple of years. Extrapolate that out to a couple of decades and we can imagine how that story ends.
Returning to running against Doctor’s orders wasn’t an easy decision for Al. But he took the time to do his research and discuss it with the surgeon and his physician. He weighed up all the pros and cons and then made an informed decision. Then he worked with us to make sure his leg was as strong as it could be and give him the best chance to succeed.
Now he’s re-discovered the joy of running and training for a big goal. We’re continuing to work with him to make the hamstring and its supporting kinetic chain muscles even stronger. He’s got three of his 6 medals and he’s hoping to get a charity spot for Boston in the Spring.
Congratulations Al, we’re really proud of you.
If you’re having ongoing trouble with an injury, and you think you’ve allowed that area to get too weak, we can probably help. Just click the button below to book a free call with us.