ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Veteran linebacker Marcus Washington said he'd rather have a broken arm than his hamstring injury.
Cornerback Fred Smoot's hamstring feels fine one day and has him grimacing the next.
Young tackle Stephon Heyer hurt his hammy three months ago, and he's just getting to the point where he'll dare to practice without wrapping it.
``It's an injury that plays with your head a little bit,'' Heyer said Wednesday.
If that's true, the Washington Redskins have been playing a lot of head games lately. At least 17 players, including some who are no longer with the team, have had hamstring issues since the start of training camp. They've ranged from major pulls to minor tweaks. The problem became so chronic that coach Joe Gibbs last week ordered an inquest, leading to several in-house initiatives aimed at getting the set of muscles behind the thigh bone to stop aching so much.
``We're frustrated by it,'' Gibbs said. ``So we've got about six different initiatives, and hopefully somewhere in there we're going to find the answer. Because it really hurts you, it hurts your football team.''
The Redskins have lost six man-games due to hamstring injuries, but that doesn't begin to tell the story. A hamstring injury lingers and lingers, hampering especially receivers and defensive backs - players whose games rely on speed - long after they've been cleared to play.
``It's one of those recurring things,'' said Smoot, who stayed in the game after reaggravating his hamstring in the fourth quarter of last week's game victory over the New York Jets. ``It's very frustrating. I've been dealing with it now for a month and a half.''
Smoot has to play at less than 100 percent because the Redskins are already short on cornerbacks, having lost Carlos Rogers for the season with a knee injury. Antwaan Randle El and James Thrash might have to deal with nagging hamstrings for the rest of the year, hindering an offense that still doesn't have a touchdown pass to a wide receiver.
Washington was just kidding when he said he'd rather have a broken arm, but he definitely is having a harder time dealing with his pulled hamstring than with the dislocated elbow he had during training camp. The elbow injury comes with a straightforward recovery timeline; the hamstring doesn't.
``You can't shake it,'' said Washington, who has missed three of the last four games and missed practice Wednesday. ``It's tough because it'll feel good for a little while, and then you'll go out and go hard like you're healthy - and then it'll get real sore.''
Last week's hamstring summit led to changes in the weight room and more stretching on the field before and after practice. An outsider who has researched hamstring injuries was brought in to offer advice. Randle El said he and other players are now doing ``corrective stretching,'' making sure that the hips are properly aligned. In addition, skill players are doing their pre-practice stretching indoors while their bodies are still warm before heading outside into the autumn chill.
``We are changing a bunch of stuff to try to find a solution,'' Gibbs said.
And hoping something sticks. Unfortunately for Gibbs and his staff, there is no panacea for hamstring injuries.
Players hurt them in different ways. Washington had someone fall on his back during a game, while Randle El pulled up while running untouched after a catch. Thrash and Randle El each hurt one of their outer hamstring muscles, while Smoot and Washington injured the slower-to-heal inside muscle.
``James Thrash pulled up in practice, and certainly nobody's in better shape or works harder or stretches harder than James Thrash,'' longtime trainer Bubba Tyer said. ``It's just various things that occur.''
The outside expert told the Redskins that workload is the problem, which might lead to changes in the offseason workout program. Tyer noted that hamstring and other soft-tissue injuries were much more prevalent among the Redskins decades ago, before Gibbs eliminated two-a-day practices on consecutive days during his first stint with the team in the 1980s.
But even the expert didn't offer a cure-all.
``He doesn't have the answers. There's no one single answer,'' Tyer said, ``because you've got to take each injury individually and analyze why it happened.''
All agree on one thing: Only time and rest can truly heal a hamstring injury, and those two commodities are hard to come by during an NFL season. Tyer said many players try to return a week too soon - and often end up paying the price by hurting themselves again.
Heyer knows that feeling well.
``It's not going to go away just by doing treatment,'' Heyer said. ``It's got to go away on its own, by resting. But we don't get much time to rest.''

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