A pulled muscle is no fun. Unfortunately, it's very common, and most athletes or fitness enthusiasts will experience one at some point.
If you've pulled your quadriceps — a collection of four muscles on the front of your thigh — your discomfort will range from mild to severe. Mild cases can be treated at home, while more serious pulls may need medical attention.
Pulled Quadriceps Injury
Taking proper action as soon as the pull occurs helps you bounce back quickly. Quadriceps strains can be classified in categories. A grade 1 tear is mild, while a grade 3 is a complete tear and quite serious.
If your injury was mild, you probably could have continued running or playing your sport. You might have felt pain, but you weren't incapacitated by it.
Your injury is more severe if you were in too much pain after the strain occurred to continue with your activity. If even walking was difficult after the event, your tear is likely a grade 2 or 3.
Practice the R.I.C.E. Principle
The first 48 to 72 hours after your injury are the inflammatory stage. During this time, fluid collects at the site of the pulled muscle in your thigh. You may experience swelling — potentially a lot of swelling if your injury was severe — and bruising. Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation — the acronym R.I.C.E — is standard protocol during this early period.
Rest: Cease athletic activity and stay off the injured leg as much as possible. Engaging in sports or exercise with a quadriceps pull can worsen your injury and prevent healing.
Ice: Apply an ice pack to the area for 20 minutes every few hours. Never apply an ice pack directly to the skin.
Compression: Wrap an elastic bandage around your thigh to create localized pressure, which helps to reduce swelling.
Elevate: Elevate your thigh on pillows whenever possible to help fluid drain away from the injury site.
Continue R.I.C.E until pain and swelling have subsided.
Seek Medical Treatment
If your pain is severe and you have difficulty walking, you should call your doctor before starting R.I.C.E. If you've determined your injury is mild and followed the protocol above, but your pain and swelling do not subside, call your doctor.
Your physician may recommend over-the-counter pain relief or prescribe medication to relieve pain and swelling of your pulled quad. She may also refer you to a physical therapist, who can employ techniques, including electrotherapy, to encourage the healing process.
Sports massage can also be beneficial. After the acute phase, a physical therapist can administer a rehabilitative program of stretching and strengthening exercises.
In rare cases, a pulled quad needs surgery to repair torn ligaments, muscle or tendon.
Stretch and Strengthen
For mild tears, after the pain and swelling have subsided, you can begin light exercise to prevent stiffness and regain mobility and strength in your injured quad. Usually this is about five days after the strain occurred.
A few times a day, gently stretch the quadriceps muscle. In the early stages simply work the muscle through it's full range of motion. From a standing position, bend the knee as much as possible and then straighten the knee. Repeat this 10 times.
Progress to static stretching, pulling the foot in toward the buttock until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
Knee extensions will help you begin to strengthen the quadriceps muscle. Sit in a chair and extend the injured leg in front of you and flex and extend the knee through its full range of motion. You can use an exercise band or ankle weights to add gentle resistance. Do two to three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions, increasing the reps and sets as you get stronger.
Wall sits improve stability and strength through the thigh and knee. Stand against a wall, walk your feet out a few feet and slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Keep your knees over your heels. Hold for 10 seconds to one minute as your strength increases. Repeat two or three times.
- SportsInjuryClinic.net: Thigh Strain
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Muscle Strains in the Thigh
- ACE: Wrapping How-To's
- Sportsinjuryclinic.net: Thigh Strain Exercises
- Sportsinjuryclinic.net: Thigh Strain Stretching Exercises
- NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Sprains and Strains
- WorkoutLabs: Wall Sit / Squats / Chair