DefinitionQuadriceps strain is a partial tear of the small fibers of the muscles that make up the quadriceps group. The quadriceps are the large group of muscles in the front of the thigh. They consist of four muscles in each leg that run from the hips to the knees.
|The Quadriceps Muscles|
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CausesA quadriceps strain can be caused by stretching the quadriceps beyond the amount of tension or stress that they can withstand.
Risk FactorsFactors that may increase your chance of a quadriceps strain include:
- Suddenly putting stress on the quadriceps when the muscle is not ready for the stress
- Using the quadriceps too much on a certain day
- Experiencing a blow to the quadriceps
- Doing a strenuous quadriceps activity
- Sports that require bursts of speed or sudden twists and turns, such as running, jumping, basketball, or football
- Tight quadriceps
- Cold weather
- Previous quadriceps injury
SymptomsQuadriceps strain may cause:
- Pain and tenderness in the front of the thigh
- Stiffness and swelling in the quadriceps
- Weakness of the quadriceps
- Bruising on the front of the thigh—if blood vessels are broken
- Popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears—rare
DiagnosisYour doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, your recent physical activity, and how the injury occurred. Your thighs will be examined for:
- Tenderness and/or bruising directly over the quadriceps
- Pain or weakness when contracting the quadriceps, particularly against resistance
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of muscle fibers.
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of muscle fibers.
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of muscle fibers. This may also be called a rupture or avulsion.
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment depends on the severity of the strain. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:
Acute CareRestYour muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on these muscles:
- Do not do activities that cause pain. This includes running, jumping, and weight lifting using the leg muscles.
- If normal walking hurts, shorten your stride.
- Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
- Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
- Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
- Prescription pain relievers
Recovery StepsRehabilitation with a physical therapist may be required.HeatUse heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.StretchingWhen the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.StrengtheningBegin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.
PreventionTo help reduce your chance of a quadriceps strain:
- Keep your quadriceps muscles strong so they can absorb the energy of sudden physical stress.
- Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities. This will decrease stress on all your muscles, including your quadriceps.
- Warm up and stretch before vigorous activity.
American Council on Exercise
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 09/30/2013