Pulled quadriceps, often abbreviated as a pulled quad, is a condition wherein the quadriceps muscles in the thighs undergo strain and tears, leading to pain and swelling in the legs, such as those experienced in muscle strains and shin splints.
The quadriceps femoris, otherwise called quads, is a large muscle group in the human body consisting of a set of four muscular components - Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius, that are situated in the front of the thighs. This muscle cluster forms the major bulk of the thighs and its primary function is to extend and straighten the knees. Furthermore, the quads are involved in flexing the hip muscles, rotating motions of the thighs and stabilizing the kneecap as well.
Since the quads are engaged during physical activities like jogging, running and playing sports like tennis, badminton etc., athletes and fitness enthusiasts often encounter this common muscular disorder.
Causes Of Pulled Quad:
The chief reasons why a pulled muscle in the thighs occurs include:
- Playing sports such as football, badminton, basketball etc., wherein the quadriceps undergo high pressure with frequent contracting movements, which also trigger injuries like turf toe, heel spurs
- Overuse of the thigh muscles at work, home or while working out
- Weakness in the structure and stability of the quadriceps in the thighs
- Running or jumping suddenly for extended periods of time applying large amounts of force on the quadriceps muscles in the thighs
- Injury to the legs and thighs
The characteristic symptoms that occur in a pulled quad consist of:
- Pain in the thighs and lower legs
- Swelling in the knees and thighs
- Inability in moving and extending the legs freely
- A decline in the strength of the thigh muscles
- Bruising in the thighs, knees and legs
Moreover, based on the seriousness of the indications, a pulled quad is classified into three categories by medical experts and researchers:
- Grade 1: Mild pain with no impairment to the muscle structures
- Grade 2: Moderate pain with weakness in the thighs and slight damage to the quadriceps
- Grade 3: Severe pain with complete loss of strength in the legs and defects in the thigh muscles
The doctor assesses the external symptoms in the patient and records their medical history, enquiring if they have faced any thigh, leg or knee injuries recently.
A simple external examination to gauge the range of motion of the thighs is also carried out, wherein the medical practitioner asks the patient to move their thighs and legs in different directions and observes their ease of rotating movements.
In case the intensity of pain is very high, then the physician also conducts imaging analyses of ultrasound, MRI scans, to clearly view the internal structures of the quadriceps and spot any soft tissue or muscle injuries.
The doctor recommends treatment for pulled quads based on the severity of pain and discomfort experienced by the patient. Additionally, the patient is also advised to stop all physical activity and sports for some time until the muscle tissues in the thighs are fully repaired and regain their strength and flexibility.
To soothe the pain in the thighs, knees and legs, the healthcare provider prescribes analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications. Apart from this, the foremost treatment for a pulled quad is the RICE technique. The acronym RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
- Rest: The patient must not engage in running, jogging, working out, playing sports that involve contracting the thigh muscles and must take ample rest to relax the quadriceps.
- Ice: Applying ice wrapped in a soft cloth or a bag directly onto the injured area in the thighs helps lessen swelling and discomfort.
- Compression: Applying force in a measured manner on the affected region in the thighs lowers inflammation.
- Elevation: Since a high influx of blood flows into the thigh muscles owing to tissue injury, raising the legs above the level of the heart helps to draw out surplus blood from the swollen region.
The doctor may also advise the patient to go for physical therapy sessions to restore optimal range of motion in the thighs, knees and legs. Depending on the extent of damage to the thigh muscles, a pulled quad heals within a few weeks or may take up to 1 – 2 months, after which the thigh muscles once again become strong and flexible in the patient.