4 Causes of Tight Thigh Pain and What to Do About It

Tight thigh muscles can make everyday activities such as walking and getting up from a chair quite uncomfortable. Your thighs have three groups of major 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.

Thigh tightness can develop from a muscle strain. (Image: mihailomilovanovic/E+/GettyImages)

Contusion and Thigh Pain

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, causing thigh pain 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.

Thigh Muscle Strain

Muscle strains are tears in the muscle tissue that can cause tense thighs. Most often these injuries 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.

Second- 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 may 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 Warning

Compartments are groups of blood vessels, nerves and muscles in your leg and arms. When pressure within the muscles increases 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 a tingling or burning sensation in your skin, or paresthesia. Acute compartment syndrome can lead to permanent tissue damage, causing numbness or paralysis — seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have this condition.

Treatment for Tight Thigh Muscles

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 the 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 the pain doesn't subside with home treatment after three weeks, or it keeps recurring, consult your doctor or physical therapist.

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