Abstract Before and during operation, pipelines may suffer from plastic pre-deformation due to accidental loading, cold bending and ground movement. Plastic prestrain not only modifies steel's yield and flow properties but also influences its fracture performance. This paper focuses on the effect of prestrain history on crack driving force and crack tip constraint. A single-edge notched tension specimen has been selected for the study and the crack is assumed to exist before a prestrain history was applied. The results show that prestrain history has a strong effect on the crack tip stress field. A new parameter has been proposed to characterize the prestrain-induced crack tip constraint. For the same crack tip opening displacement level, prestrain history will elevate the crack tip stress field. The prestrain-induced constraint decreases with the increase of loading.