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
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
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.