Featured Muscle: The Quads

If you’re like I am, your world has been consumed by the World Cup lately. As I have been watching these amazing athletes run the equivalent of 7-9 miles per game — oftentimes sprinting at full speed — I can’t help but to appreciate the muscles that make that happen: the quadriceps muscle group, AKA, the quads.

The quads are explosive and powerful. These muscles are primarily active in kicking, jumping, and running. This is the group that gives the front side of your upper leg that defined and powerful look.

Quadriceps (Quad) Muscle Strain


The quadriceps muscle group is composed of four muscles:

Rectus Femoris
Originates at the ilium. The muscle crosses 2 joints, the hip and the knee. This anatomy allows for hip flexion and knee extension.

Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis, and Vastus Medialis
Originate on the femur and function as knee extensors.

Common Quad Injury: Muscle Strain

Injuries to the quadriceps muscle group occur frequently in sports and athletic activities. Muscle strains constitute the majority of these injuries. A quadriceps strain involves a partial or complete tear of the one of those four muscles or their tendons when they’re stretched beyond their normal limits. Quadriceps muscles are most often strained when an athlete is trying to accelerate and the muscles are fatigued, overused, or not properly warmed up.

Grade 1
Minor tearing of muscle fibers with little to no loss in strength. Pain presents as mild to moderate. Exam tends to show no defect in muscle tissue.

Grade 2
Present with more severe disruption of muscle fibers and is marked by a considerable loss of strength and pain. A defect in the muscle tissue may sometimes be felt.

Grade 3
The most severe of strains. A complete tearing of the muscle accompanied by severe pain and complete loss of strength. A palpable defect in the muscle tissue can most often be felt, especially if examined at onset of injury prior to the swelling and bruising occurs.

Treatment for a Grade 1 Muscle Strain

Acute Phase: First 24 – 72hrs
Treatment in this stage should be focused on minimizing bleeding into the muscles by following the RICE principle (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).

  • Rest: Decreases worsening of initial injury.
  • Ice: Ice or cold application is thought to lower muscle temperature and decrease blood flow to the injured area. This may help facilitate faster healing and return to athletics.
  • Compression: Decrease blood flow which has been known to aid in acute phase healing.
  • Elevation: Decrease both blood flow and excess interstitial fluid accumulation.

Active Phase: 3 – 5 days post injury
The acute phase may extend into this 3 – 5 day active phase period depending on the severity of your injury. Listen to you body.

The active stage is the time to work in stretching, strengthening, range of motion, aerobic fitness, proprioceptive exercises, and functional training are the primary components of this phase. Targeted stretching and foam rolling are important to recovery and reducing another strain in the future.

All of this should be done with caution and control. Discomfort is okay, pain is not. Stay away from ballistic stretching as it will increase the risk of re-tearing the muscle fibers. Always warm up prior to doing your rehabilitative exercises. The warm up is key to activating neural pathways in the muscle.

Working with a trained professional to facilitate passive, active-passive, dynamic stretching and range of motion exercises are very helpful during this stage of healing. If you are struggling with muscle strain I encourage you to email me for a consultation.

Return to regular activity
Are you pain free? That is the the goal prior to returning to your normal level of activity. Also, to prevent re-injury warm-up thoroughly. You can also wear a compression stocking to help facilitate the muscle.

Note: If the strain is a grade 2 – 3, please seek further medical intervention. Especially in the case of a grade 3 strain as you may need crutches, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and/or imaging to properly assess and treat the injury.

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