The quadriceps muscles function to straighten your knee, and in the case of rectus femoris, also flex the hip.
Quadriceps strains range from grade 1 to grade 3, majority are grade 1-2
Grade 1 (mild) – a small number of torn muscle fibres, resulting in some pain, but allowing full function
Grade 2 (moderate) – a significant number of torn muscle fibres, with moderate loss of function
Grade 3 (severe)– all muscle fibres are ruptured resulting in major loss of function
Risk of Quad Muscle Strains
Quad strains commonly occur during decelerating, kicking or sprinting, when the muscles are contracting most forcefully.
They are often referred to as a preseason injury, as this is when they most frequently tend to occur.
Whilst a strain of any part of this muscle group is possible, injury to the rectus femoris is by far the most common, and this is thought to be because of it’s powerful duel function of both straightening the knee and flexing the hip - just like the kicking action.
This is why quad strains are commonly seen in sports such as athletics, tennis, soccer and football.
What do you feel when you strain your quad muscle?
If you feel a sudden sharp pain, a cramping or pulling sensation in the quad muscle, this is most likely the sensation of a muscle strain occurring.
Interestingly, a grade 1 rectus femoris injury may present as soreness and tightness the day after an activity and feel similar to delayed onset muscle soreness. Your physiotherapist can help you differentiate between DOMS and a muscle strain.
This is important, because if a minor injury is not managed well and allowed to fully recover, this can predispose you to a more significant quad injury which may take 4-6 weeks to fully heal.
As a general rule it is recommended to get checked by your sports physio if you feel soreness or tightness in the upper third of your quad following a big day of training or kicking, even if you didn’t feel an injury occur at the time.
A severe quad strain may result in the inability to walk without a limp or weight bear correctly on the affected leg. Swelling, tenderness and bruising may also be present. In cases of a grade 3 tear a visible deformity in the muscle may be evident.
How do I prevent quad muscle strains?
Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of training – doing too much too soon after a period of rest is why these injuries are most often seen in preseason
Allowing adequate recovery time between workouts and or training sessions.
Maintaining a solid level of conditioning, including kicking, accelerating and decelerating throughout the offseason, to prevent excessive deconditioning to these activities
Keeping quad muscles strong, including use of eccentric strength exercises so they can absorb the energy of sudden physical stress
Warming up adequately before training sessions
Ensuring optimal nutrition and water intake before, during and after physical activity
How to best manage a quad muscle strain?
The immediate treatment of any soft tissue injury is the RICE protocol – rest, ice, compression and elevation. RICE should be followed for the initial 48–72 hours post injury.
The aim is to minimise the inflammation, bleeding and damage to the muscle tissue, whilst the body does what it needs to do to put the initial healing scaffolding in place for optimal recovery.
Whilst there has been some recent debate regarding the use of ice following an injury, there is no doubt that using ice helps manage pain and reduces the inflammation and bleeding associated with a tear, without entirely stopping the inflammatory process altogether. This is important because whilst it is vital for some inflammation to occur, to bring with it all the associated healthy healing factors, excessive inflammation and bleeding can actually hinder recovery and make the injury worse than it needs to be.
An ice pack applied for about 20 minutes every two hours (never apply ice directly to the skin to avoid ice burn) during the day whilst the injury is painful, is a good guide. A correctly sized compression bandage can also be applied to help limit bleeding and swelling in the injured area.
The No HARM protocol should also be applied which includes no heat, alcohol, running, and no massage. Avoid stretching the area even if it feels tight – your body is intelligent and is providing itself temporary a splint to best allow the injured tissue to heal.
How can physiotherapy treatment help a quad muscle strain?
As time passes and pain decreases, a graduated loading and exercise program will help the muscle to rebuild itself stronger and stronger.
Your physiotherapist is best placed to guide you through the optimal activities and exercises to do to maximise your healing and recovery.
They may also utilise manual therapy to reduce your pain and restore full comfortable movement.
Rehabilitation back to sport and activity is best conducted under the supervision of a professional to minimise the risk of injury recurrence.
If you have strained your quad muscle, or have soreness that you need checked, make an appointment with our excellent sports physios for advice. Please call your nearest clinic, or book online. We look forward to helping you soon!