The quadriceps are a large muscle group at the front of the thighs. Their function is to extend the leg by straightening the knee and flexing the hip, therefore enabling you to stand, walk and run.
The quad comprises 4 major muscles:
- Rectus femoris – at the top of the thigh.
- Vastus intermedius – below the rectus femoris.
- Vastus lateralis – on the outer part of the thigh.
- Vastus medialis – on the inner part of the thigh.
The body relies on the quads for many different movements and are prone to injury, particularly while playing sport. Sprinting, decelerating, kicking and sudden changes of direction are common causes of quad strains. Damage occurs when the muscles are contracting most forcefully, and injuries range from grade 1 to grade 3.
- Grade 1 (mild) – a small number of tears to the muscle fibres. Some pain will be evident, but function is not restricted.
- Grade 2 (moderate) – a significant number of torn muscle fibres resulting in some loss of function.
- Grade 3 (severe) – all of the muscle fibres have been ruptured and there is a great loss of function.
A strain can occur in any part of the quads, but the rectus femoris is definitely the most commonly injured. This is thought to be because of its powerful dual function of both straightening the knee and flexing the hip such as in a kicking action.
What Does a Quad Strain Feel Like?
A muscle strain is often a sudden sharp pain, a pulling sensation or cramping. It is worth noting that a grade 1 injury to the rectus femoris may just feel like tightness the day after an activity, similar to delayed onset muscle soreness. Your sports physiotherapist can help you confirm whether this discomfort is a muscle strain or not.
If you are unsure, then it is important to have a physio check it out as if even a minor injury is not treated well it can lead to a more severe injury later on. It is recommended to contact your sports physio if you have any tightness or soreness in the upper third of your quad after a lot of sporting activity, even if an obvious injury didn’t occur during your sport or training.
A severe quad strain may prevent you from walking without a limp or bearing weight on the affected leg. Tenderness, bruising and swelling may also appear, and you may see a deformity in the muscle.
Treatment for a Quad Muscle Strain
For any soft tissue injury adopt the RICE method for 48-72 hours following an injury – that is Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This will minimise inflammation, bleeding and damage to the muscle tissue and at the same time allows the body to begin its healing process.
Apply ice for about 20 minutes every couple of hours whilst the injury is painful. Ice won’t totally prevent inflammation, which is a good thing, because some inflammation triggers the body to heal. But it will prevent excessive inflammation and bleeding which could hinder a good recovery.
Also remember the no HARM protocol – no Heat, Alcohol, Running or Massage. Avoid stretching as well even if the area feels tight as that is the body providing a splint while the tissue is healing – clever!
Physiotherapy for Quad Muscle Strains
After a bit of time and when the pain has decreased, your sports physiotherapist can provide a tailored exercise program to help the muscle rebuild itself and become stronger. Your physio has the knowledge and skills to guide you through the best activities to do, so your healing is maximised and you are moving well again.
Your physio may also recommend some manual therapy to help reduce any pain and deal with any restrictions to your movement. Recovery under the supervision of a professional will optimise repair to the muscles and reduce the risk of further injury.
How To Prevent a Quad Muscle Strain
The steps you can take to help prevent quad strains are similar to those to minimise any sporting injuries.
- Don’t do too much too soon. Quad strains are often seen during pre-season training by putting too much strain on the body after a rest period. Always gradually increase the intensity and duration of training.
- Warm up thoroughly before exercising to prepare your muscles for the load during your session.
- Ensure you allow for adequate recovery time between exercise sessions so muscles can rest.
- Keep your quad muscles strong so they can absorb the energy of an increased stress put on them. Eccentric strength exercises are recommended by Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy because they focus on the phases of certain movements to lengthen the muscles.
- Keep your quads active during the off-season with kicking, accelerating and decelerating sprints to keep them conditioned and ready for an increase in load.
- Make sure your nutrition and water intake are optimal before, during and after exercising.
If you have strained your quads or have any soreness you want looked at, call the qualified and experienced team of physios at Melbourne Sports Physiotherapy and don’t delay in making an appointment. They are specialists in muscle injuries and their goal is to have you moving pain-free as soon as possible.