Understanding and Managing Hamstring Injury Recovery in Horses

Table of Contents

Understanding and Managing Hamstring Injury Recovery in Horses

Table of Contents

Dealing with hamstring muscle injuries can be challenging and worrying. However this article will serve as an informative guide for horse owners and caretakers. 

We will provide a comprehensive understanding of hamstring injuries, from their causes to their effects on a horse’s mobility. And along with a list of treatments, we will introduce carnosine, a natural treatment option, offering new hope in preventing and recovering from these injuries. 

A Closer Look At The Equine Hamstring

Located at the back of the thigh, a horse’s hamstring is a group of muscles and tendons that work together to facilitate a wide range of motions. This group primarily includes the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles, each contributing to the horse’s ability to move, jump, and perform various activities.

These muscles are located down the back of the hind limb. They are responsible for the flexion and extension of the hind legs, allowing horses to gallop, jump, and execute sharp turns. The strength and flexibility of the hamstring are important in all forms of equine activities, from casual riding to competitive sports like racing and show jumping.

Common Causes Of Hamstring Injuries In Horses

Hamstring injuries can result from various factors or activities that can strain or damage the muscles and tendons in the hindquarters. Some common causes include:

Overexertion: Pushing a horse beyond its physical limits, especially during high-intensity activities like racing or jumping, can lead to muscle strains or tears.

Slippery or Uneven Ground: Horses running or working on slippery, uneven, or hard surfaces are at a higher risk of injuring their hamstrings due to increased muscle and joint stress.

Improper Training or Conditioning: Lack of proper warm-up, cool-down, or inadequate conditioning can make the muscles more susceptible to injuries.

Sudden Movements: Quick turns, sudden stops, or unexpected movements, especially in high-speed activities, can strain the hamstring muscles.

Pre-existing Weaknesses or Injuries: If a horse has had previous injuries or has inherent muscle weaknesses, it may be more prone to hamstring injuries.

Poor Nutrition or Hydration: Insufficient nutrition and hydration can affect muscle health and resilience, leading to a higher risk of injuries.

Age and Wear: Older horses or those with a long history of physical exertion may develop hamstring issues due to wear and tear over time.

Copyright ©FEI/Shannon Brinkman

How Painful Are Hamstring Injuries For Horses?

Depending on their severity and location, hamstring injuries can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.  Minor strains might result in stiffness and discomfort, while more serious injuries like tears are likely to cause intense pain.

Grade 1: Mild strain; painful to move the leg, although the muscle strength isn’t affected

Grade 2: Partial tears; more painful, a horse may lose some strength in its leg

Grade 3: Severe injuries and tears can be very painful, making it difficult to stand and walk

The pain level depends on the area injured, how widespread the damage is, and whether inflamed tissues are pressing against nearby nerves. Moreover, complications like muscle spasms or secondary injuries, often resulting from the horse compensating for the initial pain, can intensify discomfort.

Related: How Can I Tell if My Horse is in Pain?

How Long Does a Hamstring Injury Take To Heal?

Grade 1 to 2 (mild to moderate) muscle tears or strains heal within three to eight weeks with the correct treatment method. While healing may take about three months for a Grade 3 tear or strain. 

Telltale Signs of a Hamstring Injury

Lameness or Limping: This is often the most noticeable sign. The horse may show an uneven gait, refrain from leaning on the injured leg, or display difficulty walking. This can range from a subtle change in how the horse moves to an obvious limp.

Reluctance to Move: Horses with hamstring injuries might show a reluctance or refusal to perform usual activities. This includes walking, running, or engaging in strenuous activities like jumping. They might seem less eager to move from their stable or show a general lack of enthusiasm for exercise.

Swelling or Heat: When touched, the injured area might exhibit swelling, and it may feel warmer than the surrounding tissues. Swelling can be a sign of inflammation or fluid accumulation in response to the initial injury.

Muscle Stiffness: The hamstring area may become stiff, particularly after periods of rest. This stiffness can lead to a decreased range of motion in the hind legs, making it difficult for the horse to move freely.

Pain Reaction: When the affected area is touched or pressure is applied, the horse may flinch, move away, or even vocalize expressions of discomfort.

Behavioral Changes: Pain and discomfort from the injury can lead to changes in the horse’s behavior. This might manifest as irritability, aggression, or depression. Changes in eating patterns or a general decrease in activity levels can also be observed.

How To Treat a Hamstring Injury

Carnosine Supplementation

During recovery, it is important to do everything you can to help support and heal the affected muscle. Carnosine is a dipeptide that already exists in the horse’s body and is found in the highest concentrations in the muscle tissues. It consists of two amino acids, namely beta-alanine and histidine.

Carnosine plays several roles, including acting as an antioxidant, a buffer against acid buildup, and influencing muscle performance and endurance.

Its antioxidant properties help reduce oxidative stress in muscles, which is a factor in muscle injury and recovery. In muscles, oxidative stress can be induced by intense exercise, injury, or inflammation. After a muscle tear or injury, the body’s inflammatory response increases ROS production (including harmful free radicals), exacerbating muscle damage and delaying recovery.

By mitigating oxidative stress, carnosine can reduce muscle damage and inflammation. This action can be particularly beneficial following a muscle tear or injury, supporting the healing process. Reduced oxidative stress can also aid in quicker recovery of muscle function and lessened muscle soreness.

Chemipower, in cooperation with Tartu Pharmacology Institute and large equestrian communities, has developed a gel that can directly be applied to the target muscle group. Carnosine is the main ingredient in CarnoGEL, and when applied in this way, the effect of carnosine supplementation is much stronger.


A fundamental need for the body during work periods and when adapting to training is planned rest and recovery. The same applies when a horse is injured, and it is essential to prevent further injury.

It doesn’t mean complete inactivity but allowing the horse to roam the pasture or arena at its own pace without a rider or saddle. Allow two weeks of stall rest and controlled exercise for a simple muscle pull or strain. Then, gradually build your horse’s health up to complete work after six to eight weeks. But if it’s an actual tear, it may require a lengthier recovery period: about three months.


Acupuncture can be an effective complementary treatment for hamstring injuries, particularly in managing pain and promoting healing. The effectiveness of acupuncture lies in its ability to stimulate the body’s natural healing processes. It involves inserting fine needles into specific points in the body to release tension, improve blood flow, and stimulate nerve endings.

This can lead to increased circulation in the injured area, which is helpful for healing, as it brings essential nutrients and oxygen to repair tissue. Additionally, acupuncture can help in reducing inflammation and relieve pain, as well as help prevent the formation of scar tissue. It may also aid in relaxing the surrounding muscles, potentially reducing the risk of further strain.

While acupuncture shows promise, it should be considered as part of a broader treatment plan, ideally in consultation with veterinary professionals who are experienced in equine health and can assess the specific needs and condition of the horse.

Shockwave Therapy

Shockwave therapy utilizes high-energy sound waves to stimulate the injured area, promoting increased blood flow and the release of growth factors critical for tissue repair. It also plays a significant role in reducing pain by disrupting pain receptors, thereby providing much-needed relief. Additionally, shockwave therapy helps reduce inflammation and can be used in the treatment of tendon and ligament injuries in horses. By enhancing blood circulation, decreasing inflammation, and mitigating pain, it aids in improving the overall mobility and comfort of the horse. 

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Therapy

PEMF therapy uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate cellular repair and regeneration. It works at the cellular level, enhancing the body’s natural repair processes by promoting cellular energy production and increasing blood circulation. This helps reduce inflammation and pain and speeds up the healing process of tissues.

PEMF devices typically use coils or mats to deliver electromagnetic pulses through the skin. It’s generally considered a gentle therapy, often without any notable sensation or discomfort during treatment. Shockwave therapy is more intense. The device generates strong pulses directed at the injured area, which can be slightly uncomfortable depending on the energy level used and the sensitivity of the treated area.

Copyright ©FEI/Shannon Brinkman


In this guide to managing an equine hamstring injury, we’ve explored everything from the anatomy of the hamstring and common causes of injuries to various effective treatment methods. Among these, carnosine stands out for its natural presence in muscle tissues and its potent antioxidant properties, which are essential in reducing oxidative stress and aiding muscle recovery.

Take the first step towards faster recovery. As you review the best approach for your horse’s recovery, consider CarnoGEL. This innovative carnosine-based gel offers a targeted treatment to accelerate healing and improve muscle function. 

Article Sources:

1 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27898872/