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Anything from a twinge to a sharp pain in the thigh, depending on the severity of the strain. Trying to straighten the leg against resistance causes pain. Swelling and bruising are possible. For grade 2 or 3 strains, the pain affects walking.
What’s Going On In There?
The quadriceps group, at the front of the upper leg, is a set of four muscles (thus quads). The rectus femoris is the most commonly strained muscle because it runs from the hip to the knee and crosses both joints, thus facing the double jeopardy of hip and knee stress. However, the most common site of a strain is at the point where the muscle turns into tendon just above the knee.
Sprinting, jumping or kicking is usually the cause, though any movement can cause a strain.
Employ dynamic rest. Avoid loading the leg, especially in the acute stage (the first 48 to 72 hours after the injury).
Ice it. Apply ice for 15 minutes 4 to 6 times a day for the first 2 days.
Compress and elevate. Applying a compression bandage and elevating the leg can help with swelling and inflammation.
Stretch it—gently. Several days after the strain, if it’s comfortable, perform gentle quad stretches for 20 to 30 seconds several times a day.
When To Call A Doctor
For a severe strain (if walking is difficult), or if you don’t get adequate relief for a milder strain with home-based treatment, see a doctor.
A sports doc uses an MRI to determine the extent and specifics of the injury. In addition to suggesting stretching and strengthening exercises, a doctor or physical therapist can prescribe ultrasound or electro- stimulation treatment, as well as sports massage.
Strong, flexible and balanced muscles throughout your lower body will help prevent quad strains (or any strains, for that matter).
Kneel down on your left knee, with your right foot on the floor and your right knee bent 90 degrees. Reach up with your right hand as high as you can. Contract your butt, brace your abs, and bend your torso to the right. Then rotate your torso to the right as you reach with your right hand as far behind you as you can. You should feel the stretch in your left hip and quad. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Then kneel on your right knee, switch arms, and repeat. Do two more sets for a total of three. Perform this stretch daily, or up to 3 times a day if you’re really tight.
Place your fingers on the back of your head and pull your elbows back so that they’re in line with your body. Perform a bodyweight squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor, then explosively jump as high as you can. When you land, immediately squat and jump again. Hold dumbbells at your side to make it more challenging.
Stand tall with your arms hanging at your side. Brace your core and hold it that way. Lunge back with your right leg, lowering your body until your left knee is bent at least 90 degrees.As you lunge, reach back over your shoulders and to the left. Reverse the movement back to the starting position. Complete the prescribed number of reps with your right leg, then step back with your left leg and reach over your right shoulder for the same number of reps. Keep your torso upright for the entire movement.
Lie facedown on the floor with a foam roller positioned above your left knee. Cross your right leg over your left ankle and place your elbows on the floor for support. Roll your body backward until the roller reaches the top of your left thigh. Then roll back and forth.
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 29-time marathon finisher and 10-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.