What Causes Quad Muscle Pain?

Runner Squatting on Starting Blocks
Runner's legs at starting block (Image: Hoby Finn/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis muscles form the quadriceps muscle group, or quads, located on the front of your thighs. The quads extend your lower legs at the knee joints, allowing you to straighten your legs from a flexed position. Quadriceps muscle pain may occur due to a variety of reasons. The pain can limit your ability to perform various daily activities, including standing up and walking, and most recreational or sporting activities.

Muscle Contusion

A quadriceps muscle contusion, or bruise, can form due to a forceful blow to the front of your thighs, damaging the muscle tissue without breaking your skin. Blood may pool at the site of the blow, causing a lump, called a hematoma, to form. The pain and swelling caused by a bruise may limit your range of motion. Follow the RICE protocol -- rest, ice, compression and elevation -- to treat quadriceps muscle contusions. Consult with your doctor if the symptoms do not subside within several days. Athletes who play contact sports such as football and rugby should pad their quads to prevent bruises.


Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread pain in your muscles and connective tissues, which may include your quadriceps muscles and their tendons. Although the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, certain infections, emotional or physical trauma, and/or genetic factors may play a role. Drugs such as analgesics, antidepressants and antiseizure medications may help alleviate your pain, according to the Mayo Clinic, but consult with your physician before starting drug therapy to discuss your individual circumstances. Physical therapy, including exercises to strengthen and stretch the quadriceps, is another treatment option. If you suffer from fibromyalgia due to depression or emotional stress, personal counseling may also help relieve your symptoms.

Muscle Strain

If you are an athlete, you may experience pain in the quads due to a muscle strain. These can occur during kicking, running and sprinting activities, when you flex your lower legs at the knee joints and thereby lengthen the quads forcefully, stretching them beyond their customary limits. Strains often occur at the musculotendinous junction -- where the muscle fibers connect to the tendon. Treat quadriceps muscle strains by following the RICE protocol and taking anti-inflammatory medications at your doctor's discretion. Once the pain subsides, begin physical therapy to restore flexibility and strength. Recurrence is common, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, so do not rush back into sporting activities.

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