2014 Winter Olympics: Bobsleigh and Hamstring Strains
Bobsleigh is the Olympic event where two- and four-man teams attempt to achieve the fastest times down a curving, banked ice-track in composite body sleds. Steering is achieved by the driver through the use of steering handles, or rings, attached to pulleys on the sled’s front axle which help to navigate the sled through the course’s twists and turns. Switzerland and Germany have historically been the most successful nations in men’s international competition. Women’s Olympic Bobsleigh made its debut in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. Gravity contributes to sled speeds that can exceed 90 miles per hour. At the start of a race the initial speed is provided by crews pushing the sled with a running start. Given crews take part in these sudden starts in cold weather, the risk of hamstring strains in increased, which brings us to today’s injury topic.
CONDITION: HAMSTRING STRAINS
What is it? A hamstring strain is a stretching or a tearing of the muscle and/or tendon of one or more of the hamstring muscles. The hamstrings are three separate muscles, the semitendinosus, semimembranosus and biceps femoris that run along the posterior of the thigh. The main functions of these muscles are to flex the knee and extend the hip. A strain of the hamstring is very common in active individuals participating in sports that require excessive running, jumping and kicking. Strains can occur at any age but tend to be more common in older athletes. In some cases, a quick intense contraction of the hamstring can cause the muscle’s tendon to tear and take a piece of the bone it inserts into with it. This is known as an avulsion injury. Hamstring strains are more commonly seen in those with hamstring inflexibility, hamstring strength deficits and leg muscle strength imbalances. Additionally, muscle fatigue, poor sport technique, inadequate warm-up or returning too soon to activity after an injury increases the risk of hamstring strains.
What are the symptoms? The most common symptom of a hamstring strain is pain in the hamstring region on the posterior side of the thigh. Depending on the severity of the injury, patients may also experience swelling, bruising or muscle spasming. In some cases a mass may be palpable in the muscle if significant tissue tearing is present. Additionally, patients will often complain of posterior thigh pain with extension of the knee while the hip is flexed or if resisted knee flexion is attempted. Often, patients may have difficulty walking due to activation of the hamstring at various points in a walking stride.
What is the treatment? Initially, the best treatment e for a hamstring strain in protecting the injured area along with rest, ice, compression and elevation (PRICE). Depending on the injury severity, crutches may be necessary for a short time will full weight bearing can be done with the injured leg. Additionally, anti-inflammatory and/or pain medication may also be provided. Once pain has decreased, patients will often be referred to a physical therapist or given exercises to complete at home which focus on gradually regaining full, pain-free range of motion of the leg. Gradually, exercises are added that increase muscle strength while continuing those that emphasize balance and stretching as well. Sport-specific exercises will then be added and once the patient is able to complete these without pain return to full activity can be completed. Surgery is rarely needed to treat hamstring strains and is only needed if there is a complete rupture of the any of the muscles’ attachments to bone at either end of the muscle.
How can it be prevented? The best way to prevent hamstring strains is to integrate a warm up and cool down period into all activities in addition to adequately stretching before and after exercise. Also, adequate rest to combat muscle fatigue can help to reduce injuries. Hamstring strains can also be reduced by strength training with a focus on quadriceps and hamstring strength balance which aims to prevent too much stress on one isolated muscle group. Additionally, if you have previously suffered a hamstring strain, adequate rehabilitation should be completed before resuming normal activities to minimize the possibility of re-injury.
Random useless trivia about Bobsleigh: The only Olympics at which the Bobsleigh was not contested was the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley, California due to event expense and too few nations participating.