Tight Thigh Pain

Osteopath using his elbow to manipulate a knee
A woman having her thigh massaged (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Your thighs have three sets of muscles: the quadriceps at the front of your thigh, the hamstrings at the back and the adductor muscles on the inside. These muscles work together to move and bend, or flex, your thigh. When you injury your a thigh muscle, you can develop symptoms such as pain and tightness, or stiffness.

Muscle Contusion

A contusion is an injury that results from a direct blow and may vary in severity from mild to severe. In the thigh, the quadriceps muscles are most likely to suffer a contusion, also known as a “charley horse.” Symptoms of a thigh contusion include pain, tightness in the area where the blow occurred, swelling and visible bruising.

Muscle Strain

Muscle strains are tears in the muscle tissue and most often affect the hamstring muscles. They are graded according to severity, with first-degree strains being the most common, causing pain or soreness and stiffness in your thigh. First-degree strains heal well with at-home treatments such as icing and compression.

Secondary and third-degree strains cause additional symptoms such as severe swelling, bruising and limping. In some cases second-degree strains can be treated similarly to first-degree strains. In other cases, you will need to see a doctor. Third-degree strains are complete tears of the muscle and require immediate medical attention.

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Exercise or sports cause muscles to become sore, a condition known as delayed onset muscle soreness. Other symptoms of this condition include loss of muscle strength, tenderness and swelling. Exercise-induced muscle soreness is usually worse if you’re new to an exercise or sport, if you’re exercising at high intensity or if you’re not warming up properly.

Compartment Syndrome

Compartments are groups of blood vessels, nerves and muscles in your leg and arms. When pressure within the muscles increase too much, it reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to muscle and nerve cells. Acute compartment syndrome results from an injury, while chronic compartment syndrome results from exercise. Symptoms include cramping, pain — especially when stretching or using the affected muscle — and tingling or burning sensation in your skin, or paresthesias. Acute compartment syndrome can lead to permanent tissue damage, causing numbness or paralysis.

Treatment

The remedy for tight thigh pain varies depending on the condition that’s causing it. For instance, there is no nonsurgical treatment for acute compartment syndrome. However, a common first recourse is RICE — rest, ice, compression and elevation. Once pain subsides, begin gentle stretches. Wait until strength and flexibility returns to normal — about 10 days to three weeks — before returning to your usual exercise level. If pain doesn’t subside with home treatment after three weeks, or it keeps recurring, consult your doctor.

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