Referred Hamstring Pain


Referred hamstring pain is pain at the back of the thigh which originates from the lower back, sacroiliac joint or buttock muscles.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Chaminda Goonetilleke, 21st Feb. 2022

What is referred pain?

Referred pain is when a part of your body hurts, but the root cause of the pain is located elsewhere. for example, you might feel pain at the back of your thigh. However, it might be a low back or pelvic injury causing the problem. Pain is radiated into the leg through the sciatic nerve.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain which may be sudden onset, but can also occur gradualy over time.
  • Referred pain is usually less severe than a hamstring strain, although you may feel acute twinges.

The slump test is used to asses tension in the sciatic nerve. If referred pain is present then the test is likely to be positive, but not in all cases.

What causes referred hamstring pain?

There are a number of injuries and conditions which result in referred pain in the legs:

Prolapsed disc (slipped disc)

Prolapsed disc causing referred hamstring pain

A slipped disc is a general term used to describe what is actually a prolapsed disc in the spine. The intervertebral discs are round pads of cartilage which sit between each spinal vertebra (bone). The middle of the disc contains the nucleus pulposus. This is a fluid type substance which herniates out of the disc and puts pressure on the sciatic nerve.

Read more on slipped disc.

Torn muscles

A muscle strain in the lower back may cause swelling, or muscle spasm. This can impinge the sciatic nerve resulting in pain radiating into the back of the leg. The patient will be likely to have a history of lower back pain, especially if symptoms originate from the lumbar spine.

Read more on back muscle strains.

Piriformis syndrome

piriformis muscle

Piriformis syndrome occurs when the piriformis muscle impinges on the sciatic nerve. Other lateral rotator muscle or the gluteals may also cause referred hamstring pain.

Read more on Piriformis syndrome.


  • Treatment for referred hamstring pain involves identifying and treating the underlying cause.
  • Deep tissue massage to the lower back, buttocks, and hamstrings can be beneficial in loosening the area and restoring full function.
  • Stretching the muscles of the lower back and buttocks may be helpful.

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