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Quadriceps Muscle Strains by Roisin Leen

A quadriceps muscle strain is an acute tear of the quadricep muscles located at the front of your thigh.

The quadriceps muscle group consists of four muscles: 1) rectus femoris, 2) vastus lateralis, 3) vastus medialis, and 4) vastus intermedius. These muscles primarily function in extending the knee, however, the rectus femoris muscle also contributes to hip flexion as it crosses over 2 joints.


How does a quadriceps muscle strain occur?

This type of injury typically occurs during explosive movements or as a result of an acute stretch of the muscle often at the same time as a forceful contraction or functional overloading. These strains can be painful and debilitating and result in loss of time training and competing.

There are three typical mechanisms of injury resulting in a quadriceps strain:

1) Sudden deceleration of the leg (kicking)
2) Forceful contraction of the quadriceps (sprinting)
3) Rapid deceleration of a muscle that is overstretched (sudden change of direction)

The rectus femoris muscle is the most commonly involved muscle in an injury of the quadriceps. This is due to the predisposing factor that it crosses over two joints.

Classification of a quadriceps muscle strain

Muscle strains are classified into grades 1, 2, or 3 strains depending on their severity, degree of pain, loss of strength, and other physical findings that your therapist will determine.
Establishing the grade of the muscle strain will help determine the treatment, rehabilitation, and return to play protocols to therefore ensure the most effective recovery pathway.

Common symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the injury. See below for a list of some of the symptoms commonly seen with a quadriceps tear. Symptoms vary from mild to severe:

  • Twinge in the thigh
  • General feeling of tightness
  • Discomfort when walking/running
  • Sudden sharp pain during activity
  • Unable to continue activity
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tender to palpate
  • Difficulty bending the knee
  • Difficulty when fully straightening the knee


The majority of quadriceps muscle tears can be managed conservatively by your therapist.
The POLICE principle should be the first stage of treatment, (similar to the previously known RICE protocol). Protection, optimal loading, ice, compression, and elevation.
This will help decrease pain and inflammation. The next step is to gradually improve muscle flexibility and range of motion. This is then followed by regaining strength. In addition to this, there are other goals and rehabilitation criteria that should be met that your therapists here at Galway Bay Physio will go through with you to ensure optimal recovery is achieved.

If you think you may have suffered a quadriceps muscle strain, book a consultation with us today.

by Roisin Leen
Athletic Therapist

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