Muscle activation patterns in the Nordic hamstring exercise: Impact of prior strain injury

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Jun;26(6):666-74. doi: 10.1111/sms.12494. Epub 2015 Jun 9.


This study aimed to determine: (a) the spatial patterns of hamstring activation during the Nordic hamstring exercise (NHE); (b) whether previously injured hamstrings display activation deficits during the NHE; and (c) whether previously injured hamstrings exhibit altered cross-sectional area (CSA). Ten healthy, recreationally active men with a history of unilateral hamstring strain injury underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging of their thighs before and after six sets of 10 repetitions of the NHE. Transverse (T2) relaxation times of all hamstring muscles [biceps femoris long head (BFlh); biceps femoris short head (BFsh); semitendinosus (ST); semimembranosus (SM)] were measured at rest and immediately after the NHE and CSA was measured at rest. For the uninjured limb, the ST's percentage increase in T2 with exercise was 16.8%, 15.8%, and 20.2% greater than the increases exhibited by the BFlh, BFsh, and SM, respectively (P < 0.002 for all). Previously injured hamstring muscles (n = 10) displayed significantly smaller increases in T2 post-exercise than the homonymous muscles in the uninjured contralateral limb (mean difference -7.2%, P = 0.001). No muscles displayed significant between-limb differences in CSA. During the NHE, the ST is preferentially activated and previously injured hamstring muscles display chronic activation deficits compared with uninjured contralateral muscles.

Keywords: Physical therapy; inhibition; rehabilitation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Exercise Test
  • Hamstring Muscles / diagnostic imaging
  • Hamstring Muscles / injuries*
  • Hamstring Muscles / pathology
  • Hamstring Muscles / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Relaxation
  • Organ Size
  • Sprains and Strains / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult