Research Article: Patterns of Hamstring Muscle Tears in the General Population: A Systematic Review

Date Published: May 4, 2016

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Barbara Kuske, David F. Hamilton, Sam B. Pattle, A. Hamish R. W. Simpson, Bart O. Williams.


Hamstring tears are well recognised in the sporting population. Little is known about these injuries in the general population.

Evaluating the rates, patterns and risk factors of non-sporting hamstring tears, compared to sporting related hamstring tears.

MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (1989–2015).

Studies reporting patients with a grade 2 or 3 hamstring muscle tear, identified clinically, confirmed by MRI imaging or direct visualisation during surgical exploration.

144 sets of linked data were extracted for analysis. Most injuries were in males (81.3%), where mean age at injury was lower (30.2, 95% CI 29.1–31.3) than in females (35.4, 95% CI 32.4–38.4) p = 0.06. Key differences were found in the proportion of non-sporting injuries in patients under and over the age 40 (p = 0.001). The proportion of non-sporting injuries was significantly higher in females compared to males (25.9% female non-sporting injuries, versus 8.5% male; p = 0.02). Avulsions were more frequently reported in non-sporting activities (70.5%). The proportion of such injuries was notably higher in females, though this failed to meet significance (p = 0.124). Grouped by age category a bimodal distribution was noted, with the proportion of avulsions greater in younger (age <15) and older patients (age > 40) (p = 0.008). 86.8% of patients returned to pre-injury activity levels with a similar frequency across all study variables; age, activity (sporting vs non-sporting) and injury type (avulsion vs tear).

This review highlights a proportion of adults suffering grade 2 or 3 hamstring injuries from activities other than the classic sports trauma. The majority of these non-sporting injuries were avulsion injuries that clustered in older female and skeletally immature patients suggesting a potential link to bone mineral density.

Partial Text

Hamstring tears are commonly reported in professional sports players.[1–3] In contrast, the prevalence of hamstring tears in recreational-sporting and non-sporting situations is poorly defined. This lack of data is especially true for older individuals, who are known amongst clinicians to present to general practice and orthopaedic clinics with hamstring tears, yet their prevalence is unknown. Patients suffering a hamstring tear due to sport are mainly in the second and third decade of life.[4, 5] In contrast, the age range of patients with non-sporting or recreational injuries is much greater with hamstring tears reported in patients aged 60 years and over.[1, 6, 7]

The mean age of patients across the study population was 31.1 (95% CI 30.1–32.3). Patient age ranged from 9 to 73 years. The majority (72.2%) of hamstring injuries reported were observed in patients in their 20s and 30s (Fig 2). Most injuries were reported in males (81.3%). Mean age at injury in males was lower (30.2, 95% CI 29.1–31.324) than in females (35.4, 95% CI 32.4–38.4) with this difference approaching significance (Students t-test, p = 0.06).

Hamstring tears typically occur during rapid acceleration/deceleration involving sudden forced hip flexion concomitant with knee extension, and are well documented to occur as a result of sporting activities. [1, 16] Many studies have assessed the incidence, risk factors and severity of hamstring injuries in professional athletes, perhaps in whom there is a strong economic interest in defining the injury and expediting player return. [66, 67] Our review takes a different approach, assessing all reported hamstring injuries with defined mode of injury including those caused by non-sporting activities. By doing so the patient cohort extends across a much large range.

This review highlights a largely unrecognised population of adults suffering hamstring injuries from low-impact activities. These tend to be avulsion injuries that cluster in the older female and skeletally immature patients suggesting a potential link to bone mineral density.