Quadriceps 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 4 muscles in each leg that run from the hips to the knees.
The Quadriceps Muscles
A quadriceps strain can be caused by stretching the quadriceps beyond the amount of tension or stress that they can withstand.
Factors 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, orfootball
- Tight quadriceps
- Cold weather
- Previous quadriceps injury
Quadriceps 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
You will be asked 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
Imaging tests evaluate your leg muscles and surrounding structures. They may include:
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:
- 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.
Talk 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:
The leg muscles will need time to heal. RICE is often the main part of treatment:
- Rest—Activities may need to be restricted in the first few weeks. Normal activities will be gradually reintroduced as the injury heals to avoid making things worse.
- Ice—Ice therapy may help relieve swelling in the first few hours after the injury. Heat or cold may be recommended throughout recovery if they provide benefits.
- Compression—Compression bandages can provide gentle pressure to help move fluids out of the area.
- Elevation—Keep the leg elevated to help fluids drain out or to prevent fluids from building up.
To 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
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
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Last reviewed September 2015 by Laura Lei-Rivera, DPT
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.