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Hamstring MRI scan

A Hamstring MRI is a scan that produces highly detailed images of the tendon at the back of the thighs that attach the large thigh muscle to the bone, otherwise known as the hamstring.

Hamstring injuries are prevalent – especially in sports that involve running and jumping. This is because when the muscles in this area are used excessively and with jerky movements – a muscle can get overloaded.

Hamstring MRIs are useful in identifying which muscle or tendon has been affected or damaged, allowing physicians to prescribe a suitable treatment plan or rehab. A patient can receive an MRI after being referred by a doctor. A physician will conduct a physical exam and discuss the patient’s pain or discomfort, and if a hamstring injury is suspected, they will be referred to a radiology specialist for an MRI.

Below are two conditions that Hamstring MRIs commonly detect:

Hamstring muscles strains – when one or more of the hamstring muscles gets stretched too far and starts to tear.

Recurrent hamstring injuries – a hamstring injury that happens regularly.

Getting a hamstring MRI is a relatively quick process. The scan itself should only have 10-15 minutes. However, patients should allow more time for the preparation and consultation that will take place before and after the scan.

Get more information about MRI scans.

How do hamstring MRI scans work?

An MRI works by using a combination of a strong magnetic field and radiofrequency to generate detailed images from the area. Unlike traditional x-rays, an MRI doesn’t use radiation. Instead, it harnesses radiowaves from data that already exist in the body, meaning it won’t cause chemical change or damage to tissue.

MRIs are so effective for the hamstring area because the region is made up of tendons and muscles. Traditional X-rays don’t show either of the aforementioned soft tissues well. However, tendons and muscles can be seen very clearly on an MRI. This allows doctors to quickly and easily identify any injuries or damages in this area.

When an MRI is being taken, a large number of cross-sectional images are taken in quick succession. These images are then rendered together to create a 3-D representation of the area. These detailed images let doctors see many details that 2-D images don’t. As a result, even a minuscule tear can be quickly and easily identified on an MRI.

Why might you need a hamstring MRI?

If a doctor suspects an issue with your hamstring then they will often suggest a magnetic resonance imaging scan to confirm their suspicions. A MRI Hamstring scan is also sometimes issued to monitor healing hamstring injuries. Below are some conditions a hamstring MRI can detect:

  • A mild muscle pull or strain

  • A partial muscle tear

  • A complete muscle tear

  • Hamstring tendonitis

  • Avulsion injury

  • Biceps femoris tendinopathy

  • Tendon injuries

  • Posterior thigh injury

  • Hamstring strain injuries

  • Acute hamstring injuries

  • A muscle injury

If you are experiencing any of the following issues, you may be referred for a hamstring MRI scan:

  • Swelling at the back of the thigh

  • A “popping” sensation at the time of injury

  • Sudden, sharp pain at the back of the thigh

  • Inability to place weight on the injured leg

  • Dull aching around your buttocks

  • Leg stiffness

How to prepare for your hamstring MRI?

Hamstring MRIs generally don’t require any special preparation. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your referring doctor to see if they have any regulations they’d like you to do in preparation.

That being said, for any MRI, patients are required to remove all metal objects from their body. By doing this before your appointment, you can speed up the process. Jewellery, a watch, hair pins and piercing all fall into this category. If you have a permanently implanted medical device that’s made of metal – like pins and plates for a broken bone – then you should tell your technician about them before the scan begins.

The inside of an MRI machine is dark, quite loud and cramped. So, if you suffer from claustrophobia and foresee yourself experiencing it when undergoing the scan, you should let your referring doctor know. They may decide to administer a sedative to help you feel more comfortable during the scan. If this is the case, you should check with the doctor about whether there’s anything specific that you need to do to prepare for the MRI.

What To Expect from an MRI scan of your Hamstring

During the scan

When you arrive for your MRI you’ll check in with reception like a normal appointment. Once the technician or radiologist is ready for you, you’ll be taken through to the MRI room. Here, you’ll find a tube shaped machine, with is a Magnetic resonance imaging machine.

Some clinics may give you a hospital gown to change into. If so you’ll be given some time to put it on. Once you’re ready, the technician will ask you to lay down on a thin metal bed. They will adjust you so that your leg is sitting correctly in order for the MRI to capture the appropriate image. If you feel any discomfort during the process, you should let the doctor know immediately.

You’ll also be fitted with earphones and a buzzer. These help down out the noise of the machine, and the buzzer can be used to communicate with your technician during your scan, if you require.

After this, the metal bed will slowly slide inside the machine for the scan. The scan itself should only take around 15 minutes. It’s important to ensure that you hold very still, as even the slightest movement can blur the image. Once the technician is happy with the captured images, they will slide you out of the machine and you’re MRI is complete.

After the scan

A hamstring MRI is a non invasive procedure, so you should be able to continue about your day as normal once the scan is complete.

In rare cases, patients can suffer allergic reactions to an MRI, so if you notice any allergy symptoms, like a rash or redness, then you should let a doctor know immediately.

‘Results from a hamstring MRI usually takes about one week. This gives your physician time to study the images and identify your condition. In some cases, if the condition is urgent and needs immediate treatment, your results may be ready sooner.

What are the benefits of an MRI scan of the hamstring?

Hamstring MRIs are an advanced imaging technique that can identify many conditions that a traditional x-ray isn’t able to. Below are some reasons why Hamstring MRIs are commonly used.

  • The preciseness of an MRI means that they can pick up very small abnormalities that may not otherwise be evident.

  • They can identify issues with soft tissues within the leg area, which traditional x-rays can’t.

  • MRIs are non-invasive and don’t involve any radiation, meaning they are a very safe procedure.

  • The results are quick, which can mean that treatment can be started quickly.


Why would a doctor order an MRI for your hamstring?

MRIs almost always require a referral. This means that the patient would have already consulted with a doctor and the doctor suspected a condition that would be picked up on a hamstring MRI. During the appointment with the doctor, they will undertake a physical exam and listen to your symptoms in order to decide whether they suspect a hamstring injury.

How long does a hamstring MRI take?

The scan itself should only take about 15 minutes. However, patients should allow 60-90 minutes for the whole appointment to allow for preparation and consultation time.

What does a hamstring MRI show?

A hamstring MRI shows detailed 3-d images of the area; it clearly shows organs, soft tissues and skeletal structure and can also show abnormal matter.

Is a hamstring MRI uncomfortable?

A patient shouldn’t feel discomfort during a hamstring MRI. However, sometimes a technician or radiologist will need to position you in a certain way so that the scan can correctly capture all of the required areas. Because hamstring muscle injuries are very painful, this positioning may be uncomfortable. However, if you ever feel any discomfort or pain at all in your hamstring muscles, you should always tell your technician straight away.

Does your head go in for a hamstring MRI?

This depends on the machine and the technician. Often patients will enter an MRI machine head first. In this case, their head will be inside the MRI machine. Sometimes, patients are able to enter an MRI machine foot first, and in this case, they may be able to keep their heads outside of the MRI machine.

Can I drink water before a hamstring MRI?

In most cases, you can drink water before having an MRI for a hamstring strain injury. However, it’s important to always check with your referring physician prior to the appointment because some doctors may have different requirements.

Will a doctor automatically recommend an MRI if I have hamstring issues?

No. A doctor will speak to you about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. If they believe you have a condition that can be diagnosed through an MRI, they will refer you for a scan.