Hamstringing is a method of crippling a person or animal so that they cannot walk properly by severing the hamstring tendons in the thigh of the individual. It is used as a method of torture, or to incapacitate the victim.
Hamstringing is used primarily to incapacitate a human or animal and render them incapable of effective movement. The severing of the hamstring muscles results not only in the crippling of the leg, but also in tremendous pain common to heavy laceration. For this reason hamstringing has been used as a form of torture, often resulting in the death of the victim.
In humans, the hamstring extends between the hip and knee joints. The hamstring muscle group is made up of the biceps femoris, semitendinosis muscle, and the semimembranosus. It facilitates both the flexing of the knee and hip extension, making it a vital contributor to normal leg movement. By severing these muscles or the tendons involved in this process, normal leg movement is disrupted. In addition to sustaining massive bleeding, the injured leg becomes useless and the victim is rendered lame. The severing of the hamstring is usually accomplished through use of a blade such as a knife or sword.
Due to a lack of research in the field of critical hamstring injuries, the current injury management is quite limited. Management of the injury is based solely "on clinical experience, anecdotal evidence and the knowledge of the biological basis of tissue repair." These injuries are difficult to control or repair, leading often to permanent injury or even death by exsanguination.
Sources from Late Antiquity indicate that hamstringing was commonly used to incapacitate combatants and prisoners.
Literally, to hamstring an individual is to sever the tissues of their hamstring. As a metaphor "to be hamstrung" suggests being limited, by external imposition or not, in a way that prevents full freedom of movement or utilization of resources.