Bulletin 6
Welcome to the first bulletin board for season 2009
Kicking - Hamstring injury

A regrettable fact of football life is the problem of the hamstring injury, here related to the kicking action. The cry ‘I’ve done a hammy’ is heard all too frequently in football circles and we should not be surprised at the plight of Ben Cousins, nor indeed any of the players at the AFL level who sustain hamstring injuries. One is reminded of the cry of the estate agent (‘position, position, position’). With footballers the cry should be ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’.

It is regrettable that while coaches lament the frequency of hamstring injuries, they continue to embrace the old methods of stretching and at the same time fail to understand that it is a rare recruit at 17 or 18years of age, who has not done the hard yards in his pre-teens to develop long hamstrings who can suddenly acquire the long habit length of hamstrings so necessary in elite adult football.

Such is the power of the quadriceps at the front of the thigh during the leg drive that the muscles at the back of the thigh – the hamstrings, shown in blue, have been switched off to avoid injury. Hence the knee ‘snaps’ into hyperextension. It is at this instant that the hamstrings, now shown in red, must be instantly reactivated to ‘put the brakes on’ and slow the kicking leg. However, this can be likened to putting the brakes on a ‘runaway train’.


The action of the hamstrings can be compared to a bungee rope that, as the jumper begins the descent, stretches and gradually reduces the downward speed until finally arresting the descent. This finally achieved, the jumpers’ descent is reversed, and he is catapulted skyward. Likewise, after impact with the ball, the hamstrings are placed on increasing stretch until they arrest the forward swing of the kicking leg, and bring the knee back into flexion.

The bungee jumpers’ safety is determined by the integrity of the rope. If its elasticity is impaired with age or poor maintenance, it might rupture. In the same way, the hamstrings must be carefully prepared and maintained as they are subjected to enormous stretching forces. All too often, footballers sustain hamstring injuries that might be precipitated or aggravated by the followthrough.

Hamstring tears are still at the top of the injury list. It is apparent then, that hamstring resting length is crucial to the successful outcome of the kicking action. It is vital that coaches identify players with hamstrings of ‘short resting length’. Such shortened hamstring length will be the precursor of problems, and while it might be too late to correct this as players enter mid to late teens and embark on their senior careers, it is still important to place significant emphasis on hamstring exercises in any exercise program.

It is essential then that hamstring stretching begins at the junior level, and becomes routine into the teenage years, and beyond. Delaying hamstring stretching until the teenage years might result in an irreversible shortening of this muscle group, and costly interruption to promising careers. It is significant that gymnasts, engaging in the most explosive hip joint flexions, rarely suffer hamstring injuries. This can be attributed to the early introduction of dedicated stretching regimes.

The frivolous stretching depicted in the photograph below will achieve nothing and shows a complete lack of understanding on the part of coaching staff of the structure and function of the hamstring group of muscles.

 


The authors were recently given access to the pre-season stretching results of players at a leading AFL club. When the strength and conditioning coaches were asked to decipher the abbreviated technical notes of the club physiotherapist, pertaining to one player in particular coaching staff were unable to explain or interpret them. The very people who should have been liaising between player and physiotherapist had failed dismally! Little wonder hamstring injuries continue to occur with this kind of neglect.

Stay tuned for further comment and preventative strategies related to hamstring preparation in future bulletin boards.

 

 

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