Tight Hamstring Syndrome (THS) – Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Reviewed by Dr Ganapathi

Tight Hamstring Syndrome (THS)

Tight hamstring syndrome is caused by a problem in the lower back

This condition affects children and teens.

Hamstring muscles are located at the back of the thigh and attach to the pelvic bone.

If a child has THS, these muscles can become so tight that the child may have trouble walking.

Tight Hamstring Syndrome most often happens when a spinal bone (vertebra) in the lower back slips forward. Spinal bones normally rest on top of each other.

If one vertebra slips forward and out of place (spondylolisthesis), it can put pressure on the nerves that supply the muscles of the spine, hip, and upper legs.

What are the causes?

The slipped vertebra that leads to Tight Hamstring Syndrome may be caused by:

  • A birth defect.
  • Damage from activities that involve arching the back.
  • Damage from a tumor or infection of the lower spine.

Research Facts about Tight Hamstring Syndrome?

A retrospective study conducted in 102 children showed the underlying diseases in these children suffering from Tight Hamstring Syndrome

  1. Slipped lumbar disc
  2. Spondylolisthesis or spondyloptosis
  3. Fractures
  4. Langerhans’ cell histiocytosis
  5. Spondylodiscitis
  6. Osteomyelitis, facet joint
  7. Osteoid osteoma
  8. Spinal ependymoma
  9. Epidural lipoma
  10. Ewing’s sarcoma
  11. Leukemia focus
  12. Arachnoidal cyst
  13. Meningitis
  14. Spinal stenosis
  15. Aneurysmal bone cyst
  16. General fibrous bone dysplasia
  17. Myositis
  18. General angiomatosis
  19. Dysplasia of the vertebral arch
  20. Sacral meningocele
  21. Chordoma

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make a child more likely to develop Tight Hamstring Syndrome:

  • Being a boy who is 7–8 years old.
  • Having a personal or family history of spondylolisthesis.
  • Doing activities that have an increased risk for the spinal injuries that can lead to THS. Examples are gymnastics and football.

Are overweight and obese children are at increased risk of Tight Hamstring Syndrome?

A study conducted among 122 third year primary schoolchildren proved that there is a significant relationship between obesity, overweight and presence of Tight Hamstring Syndrome.Of the 122 children, 55% were boys and 45% were girls).

Among these children, 49.1% weren’t overweight, 25.4% were overweight and 25.4% were obese.

42% of these children had normal THS test results.

34% of them have THS degree I and 24% had THS degree II.

What are the symptoms of Tight Hamstring Syndrome?

The most common sign of THS is hamstring tightness that prevents a child from flexing his or her hip with the knee extended. This movement involves moving the leg forward at the hip with a straight knee. Your child may also complain of low-back pain.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain, tingling, or numbness in the thighs or buttocks.
  • A stiff, waddling walk.
  • Back stiffness or spasms.
  • Pain when pressing on the lower back.
  • A sideways curve of the spine (scoliosis).

In children, the symptom complex of tight hamstring syndrome is very rare and most commonly has a variable pathogenesis.

What induces these clinical symptom complex is

  1. a fixed contraction of the lumbar, ischiocrural and gluteal musculature which
  2. fixes the lumbar vertebral column and the hip joints typically in an extended position when the full extended leg is lifted up 

THS results from numerous underlying conditions such as intra and extraspinal diseases.

How is Tight Hamstring Syndrome diagnosed?

Tight Hamstring Syndrome may be diagnosed based on your child’s symptoms and a physical exam. During the exam, your child’s health care provider may:

  • Feel your child’s spine for a specific type of deformity (step-off) in the lower lumbar area of the back. Pushing on this area may cause discomfort.
  • Check whether lifting your child’s legs at the heels (when the child is lying down) causes the child’s back to lift off the exam table.

Imaging tests may also be done, including:

  • Plain X-rays. These may show a vertebral slip when your child is standing.
  • CT scan.
  • MRI.
  • Bone scan.

How is this treated?

Treatment for Tight Hamstring Syndrome depends on the cause of the condition and how severe it is.

  • Mild cases of THS may be treated with a period of rest followed by exercise to stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles.
  • If THS is due to a tumor or infection, your child may need to be admitted to a hospital for treatment.
  • If THS is due to a slipped vertebra from trauma, wear and tear, or a birth defect, treatment may include:
    • Resting at home until pain goes away.
    • Taking NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve pain and swelling.
    • Wearing a back brace. Your child may need to wear a brace for 3–6 months.
    • Physical therapy. This will begin once pain is relieved. The goal is to make the abdominal and spinal muscles stronger and to stretch the hamstring muscles.
    • Follow-up X-rays and imaging studies. These will be done after several months of treatment to monitor your child’s condition. They will show whether the vertebra is healing well or slipping farther out of place.
    • Surgery if:
      • The vertebra has slipped farther.
      • THS symptoms do not get better after 6 months of rest and wearing a brace.

Follow these instructions at home:

If your child has a back brace:

  • Have your child wear the brace as told by your child’s health care provider. Remove it only as told by the health care provider.
  • Loosen the brace if your child’s toes tingle, become numb, or turn cold and blue.
  • Keep the brace clean.
  • If the brace is not waterproof:
    • Do not let it get wet.
    • Cover it with a watertight covering when your child takes a bath or a shower.

Activity

  • Work closely with your child’s physical therapist to learn the exercises your child should do at home.
  • Make sure your child avoids activities that cause pain during recovery.
  • Have your child avoid activities that involve arching the back.
  • Do not let your child participate in contact sports. Make sure you know which types of recreational activities are safe for your child.
  • Ask your child’s health care provider when your child can return to normal activities.

General instructions

  • Give over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child’s health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child’s health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Your child’s symptoms are not improving.
  • Your child’s symptoms are getting worse.
  • Your child develops new symptoms.

Get help right away if:

  • Your child loses movement or feeling in the back, legs, or hips.
  • Your child loses control of bowel or bladder functions.

Summary

  • Tight hamstring syndrome (THS) is a condition that affects children and teens and is caused by a problem in the lower back.
  • THS most often happens when a spinal bone (vertebra) slips forward and out of place (spondylolisthesis). This can put pressure on the nerves that supply the muscles of the spine, hip, and upper legs.
  • The most common sign of THS is hamstring tightness that prevents a child from flexing his or her hip with the knee extended or straight. Your child may also complain of low-back pain and have trouble walking.
  • Treatment for this syndrome depends on its cause and how severe the condition is. Treatment may include rest, medicine, wearing a back brace, physical therapy, or surgery.

Sources

Tight hamstring syndrome and extra- or intraspinal diseases in childhood

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