What is it?
A quadriceps muscle strain refers to a tear in the large muscle group, which covers the front of the thigh.
How does it happen?
A quadriceps muscle strain typically occurs when the muscle is contracted with excessive force. This can occur in activities such as sprinting, jumping or kicking. In these activities, the quadriceps muscle group is particularly vulnerable to tearing, especially when it is working in a stretched position or required to contract against a load (i.e. kicking a ball).
How does it feel?
When the quadriceps muscle is strained the first sensation you feel is sudden pain in the front of the thigh, due to damage to muscle fibres. At the same time, you may have a ‘tearing’ sensation. With minor strains you may be able to continue participating with minimal restriction. However, as the muscle cools down following activity, pain may gradually increase as bleeding and swelling around the injured muscle continues. This may be associated with progressive tightening and stiffening of the quadriceps muscle. In more severe strains. these sensations may be exaggerated such that you are unable to continue participating due to excessive pain in the thigh, muscle tightness, weakness and spasm. In these cases, the pain may be so intense that you may be unable to walk without a limp. There may also be obvious swelling and a visible defect in the muscle.
What should you do?
To limit the severity of this injury it is advised you stop your activity immediately and start initial treatment. The most important time in the treatment of any injury is the first 24–48 hours. Swelling is a necessary step in the healing process; however, too much swelling can delay healing and cause further tissue damage. To control the amount of swelling and limit the degree of damage to the quadriceps muscle, the RICE regime should be commenced (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). This will help to reduce blood flow to the injured area, thereby reducing the extent of swelling and tissue damage. You should continue the RICE regime until you consult an osteopath, preferably within 2 days of the initial injury.
What shouldn’t you do?
Following a quadriceps muscle strain, you shouldn’t undertake activities which increase blood flow to the quadriceps muscle. These include hot showers, quadriceps stretching, heat rubs, massage, consumption of alcohol and excessive activity. These can increase muscle bleeding, resulting in further pain and an extended recovery period.
Could there be any long-term effects?
Although most quadriceps muscle strains heal without complication within a number of weeks, a proportion of injuries can result in longer-term effects, depending on the extent of damage and inappropriate early management. When the quadriceps is torn a number of structures contained within and around the muscle may be injured. Injury to these structures may delay return to sports participation. This may also result in a tight or weakened quadriceps muscle group that is prone to re-injury when returning to activity. Re-injury may also result if the cause of the initial quadriceps tear was not accurately diagnosed and addressed.
The assistance of an osteopath is important in the treatment of a quadriceps muscle strain. Initially, they can assist in determining the exact tissue/s damaged and the extent of this damage. From this information an indication of how long the injury is expected to take to heal can be determined. Osteopaths can also use a number of other treatment techniques to assist in reducing pain and swelling and enhance the healing of the injured structures. This should also include an appropriate progression of exercises aimed at increasing your range of motion, strength and function. These exercises will facilitate your return to sport participation and, by identifying the reason why you tore your quadriceps, help prevent rein-jury. This can be performed whilst minimising the risk of a re-bleed and will accelerate your return to sports participation.