Pulled quadriceps or quadriceps (quads) strain is a condition where there is injury to one or all the muscles or their tendon present in front of the thigh. Pulled quadriceps is an injury which is commonly seen in sports which require forceful or repetitive contraction of quadriceps muscles leading to extreme stress to a previously stretched muscle resulting in tearing of muscle fibers. Quadriceps (quadriceps femoris) comprises of four large muscles: the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and the vastus lateralis. The quadriceps muscles are responsible for straightening (extending) of the knee joints.
Causes of Pulled Quadriceps
Pulled quadriceps or quadriceps strain commonly occurs in athletes or people who are involved in sports activities where the individual forcefully or repetitively contracts the quadriceps as seen in running, kicking and jumping. Sudden increase in the intensity and duration of the workout can also cause quadriceps strain. Athletes are at a higher risk for suffering from quadriceps strain, especially those who participate in sports such as basketball, football, rugby, soccer, sprinting, long jumps and hurdles. Heavy weightlifters can be at risk for this injury as well.
Signs and Symptoms of Pulled Quadriceps
- Symptoms depend on the severity of the strain. In mild quadriceps strain, where there is very less tearing of the muscle, patient suffers from mild pain and swelling and is able to move his/her leg with minimal pain.
- In moderate strain, there is more tearing of muscle fibers, but the muscle is not completely torn. Patient has significant pain and swelling and has difficulty using the injured leg. There may also be bruising present.
- In severe quadriceps strain, there is severe pain and swelling along with significant limitation of movement. Patient may also suffer from muscle weakness.
- Other symptoms of pulled quadriceps include tenderness, muscle stiffness and a "popping" sensation during the injury.
Treatment of Pulled Quadriceps
- If the strain to the quadriceps is mild or minor then it can be effectively managed with RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression and elevation).
- Rest is very important for healing.
- Avoid sports activities.
- You can ice the area by using an ice pack for 20 minutes, every 3 to 4 hours for the initial 24 to 48 hours after the injury, as this is the acute phase; hence the pain and swelling is more. Icing helps in reducing the pain and swelling.
- Bandaging the injured area also helps.
- Over the counter pain medications help in reducing pain.
- For moderate and severe strains, RICE therapy and pain medications help in relieving pain and swelling. Along with this, crutches should be used to avoid weight bearing on the injured limb.
- If the muscle is severely torn, then surgery may be recommended by the doctor to repair the severely torn muscle.
- Once the pain and swelling have subsided, patient should enroll into a rehabilitation program comprising of exercises to stretch the stiff thigh muscles and to improve muscle strength, flexibility and range of motion of the leg.