Once you have moved past the initial acute phase of muscle recovery for a torn hamstring, you will now be in the sub-acute phase where the body is starts to form and synthesize scar tissue.
The key at this stage of recovery is to start to introduce movement slowly and progressively to promote elasticity and suppleness of the newly formed scar tissue. This is best done by a hamstring rehab program, where you slowly add more challenging exercises overtime. The program should be developed to include exercises that promote range of movement and flexibility well as improve muscle strength.
However it is very important to ensure that you do not do further damage to the injured muscle during this phase. The best way to make sure this happens is to allow sufficient time for the body to heal and avoid pain in any exercise or movement that you are doing.
So what is pain?
This is an incredibly difficult thing to quantify as everybody sees it differently. Entire books, university courses and branches of philosophy have been dedicated to the topic. So to make it easy let’s talk about some of the things to look for during a rehab program.
The main idea is to try to differentiate between muscle fatigue and pain.
For example, remember the first time you attempted to do a set of push-ups or weighted exercise. Maybe you could get to 10 reps before your arms gave way underneath you and as you approached your last rep on the 8th or 9th rep you started to slow as you approached your limit.
This feeling is best described as muscle fatigue. It is generally symmetrical across the body (if you are doing exercises such as push-ups or squats) and you will be well aware that you approaching your limit.
Pain on the other hand, particularly when recovering from a torn hamstring, will tend to be asymmetrical and could happen suddenly and unexpectedly.
Say you have started your program with a simple double legged bridging exercise, it may be at say 3 reps you feel something that causes discomfort, something that only affects the injured muscle. If this happens then … STOP! It likely that you are experiencing pain around the injured muscle and should cease the set you were trying to complete.
Pain is a sign that your brain is telling you to stop as you have caused or may be about to cause damage to the body.
However, don’t fret, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have done further damage to the muscle, its more often than not a warning that you need to stop and wait a little longer before you can attempt that exercise again.
It is best to wait a day and try the exercise again. If you can’t do it without pain the following day, try again in another two days etc.
The idea is that eventually you want to build up to a point where you can go to muscle fatigue without pain!!!
It is also important to remember that the point of a rehab program is not to accelerate the rate at which the body is healing but to promote elasticity of the newly formed scar tissue that will reduce chance of re-injuring the muscle in the future.