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I was watching Match Of The Day with a friend last week when Gareth Bale went racing through on goal, unleashed a decent looking left-footed shot and subsequently pulled up in pain, holding the back of his leg. "What does a hamstring injury feel like?" my friend asked. "Depends how bad you do it," I replied. "But if it's a grade-three tear, then it feels pretty much as if a sniper has taken aim at the back of your leg from point-blank range."
I've pulled my hamstring a few times, with varying degrees of severity, and the first thing that instinctively comes into my head is a self-diagnosis of roughly how long I'll be out for, even as I'm hobbling to the side of the pitch. After years of playing football, you get to know your own body.
Missing games through injury is one of the worst feelings that a footballer can experience. For the first few days, there isn't much that he can do as the injury "calms down" and becomes treatable. With hamstrings, the tear immediately fills with blood and renders diagnosis through an MRI scan all but pointless.
But there are tell-tale signs that allow a player to determine how bad his injury really is. When a hamstring injury is at its worst, those players who take their shoes off by treading down on the heel with their other foot will immediately feel that sharp stabbing pain in the back of their leg.
Hamstring injuries for a footballer are an occupational hazard, a bit like suffering from a hernia. It will definitely happen, it's just a question of when. With that in mind, it's important not to get too downhearted, preventable though the injury is.
For me, the worst injuries are those that are self-inflicted through either showing off or messing around. Years ago, a group of us went to a popular nightspot in Manchester for no particular reason and, in all fairness, probably had too much of a good thing in too short an amount of time.
As the lights went up and the music went down, we made our way to the top of the stairs and began a shaky decent. Suddenly, from behind us, there came a huge bang, a couple of screams and a fair amount of swearing. I turned around just in time to see a team-mate rolling down the stairs like a bowling ball, just before being expertly skittled myself.
That was my first serious injury - a torn groin that kept me out for about six weeks - while my team-mate got away with severe bruising to the ego. Thankfully, as the years have gone by, I have learnt to avoid these pitfalls and not put myself in danger of risking unnecessary injury.
It's a lesson we can all learn from. Wherever possible, always take the lift.
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