A Thigh muscle strain is quite common in sports like football, where kicking is repeatedly practiced. A Thigh muscle strain refers to a tear in the Quadriceps muscle group. Usually, the muscle is forcibly stretched beyond its limits and the muscle tissue becomes torn. A tear in a Thigh muscle is referred to as a Thigh strain and depending on its severity it is classified as a first, second or third degree strain.
The thigh has three sets of strong muscles: the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor (groin) muscles on the inside. The quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together to straighten (extend) and bend (flex) the leg. The adductor muscles pull the legs together. The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. These muscles are used for high—speed activities, such as track and field events (running, hurdles, long jump), football, basketball, and soccer.
Muscle strains (muscle pull or tear) usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, and the muscle tissue becomes torn during an activity such as sprinting or kicking a ball. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful.
The thigh has three sets of strong muscles: the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor muscles on the inside. The quadriceps located at the front of the thigh is responsible for extending the knee and bending the leg. The quadriceps group is made up of four muscles: Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius and Vastus Medialis. The adductor muscles pull the legs together.
What is a Thigh Muscle Strain
A thigh muscle strain is quite common in sports like football, where kicking is repeatedly practiced. Cycling, rowing and downhill running are some other activities where the quadriceps can become overloaded and susceptible to injury. A Thigh muscle strain refers to a tear in the quadriceps muscle group. The quadriceps are located at the front of the thigh and are responsible for extending (straightening) the knee. The quadriceps group is made up of four muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis.
Usually, the muscle is forcibly stretched beyond its limits and the muscle tissue becomes torn during an activity such as sprinting or kicking a ball. A tear in a thigh muscle is referred to as a thigh strain and depending on its severity it is classified as a first, second or third degree strain:
- a first degree strain is damage to a few muscle fibres
- a second degree strain is damage to a more extensive number of muscle fibres
- a third degree strain is a complete rupture of the muscle itself
Thigh Muscle Strain Signs & Symptoms
There are some common symptoms of a muscle strain including:
- Popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears.
- Sudden and severe pain.
- Injured area may be tender to the touch, with visible bruising if blood vessels are also broken.
With a grade one thigh strain the signs may not be present until after the activity is over. There may be a sensation of cramp or Thigh tightness and a slight feeling of pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.
With a grade two thigh strain there is immediate pain which is more severe than the pain of a grade one injury and produces pain on walking. It is confirmed by pain on stretch and contraction of the muscle. A grade two Thigh strain is usually sore to touch.
A grade three thigh strain is a complete rupture of a muscle and is a serious injury. There is immediate burning or stabbing pain and the athlete is unable to walk without pain. Often there is a depression in the thigh at the location of the tear and a lump above the depression. After a few days with grade two and three injuries a large bruise will appear below the injury site caused by bleeding within the tissues.
What Causes a Thigh Muscle Strain?
- These strains can be caused by a forceful muscle contraction during activities such as running or jumping.
- May be a result of poor flexibility.
- Continuing to run and sprint when the muscles feel tight.
Common factors that can make it more likely for you to experience a muscle strain include:
- Muscle fatigue—Fatigue reduces the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.
- Muscle imbalance—When one muscle group is much stronger than its opposing muscle group, the imbalance can lead to a strain. This frequently happens with the hamstring muscles because the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh are usually more powerful. During high-speed activities, the hamstring may become fatigued more quickly than the quadriceps, leading to a strain.
- Muscle tightness—Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain. Athletes should follow a year-round program of daily stretching exercises.
- Poor conditioning—If your muscles are weak, they are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and are more likely to be injured.
Diagnosis for Thigh Muscle Strain
Your physician will ask about the injury and examine your thigh for tenderness or bruising. You may be asked to bend or straighten your knee and/or hip so the doctor can confirm the diagnosis.
An x-ray may be needed if there is a possible fracture or other injury to the bone. Muscle strains are graded according to their severity. A grade 1 strain is mild and usually heals readily, whereas a grade 3 strain is a severe tear of the muscle that may take months to heal.
Thigh Muscle Strain Treatment
What you can do
- Consult a sports injury expert
- Apply ice packs to relieve pain
- Apply compression bandage to control bleeding & swelling
- Use resistance bands for muscle strengthening exercises
- Wear compression shorts or thigh support for reassurance during rehabilitation
The immediate treatment for a thigh muscle strain consists of rest, ice, and compression (never apply ice directly to the skin). This is aimed at reducing the bleeding and damage within the muscle tissue. Resting may be the common sense approach, but it is one that is often ignored by competitive athletes.
This is unwise, since it does not take much to turn a grade one thigh strain into a grade two, or a grade two thigh strain into a grade three. As a general rule, grade one Thigh strains should be rested from sporting activity for about 3 weeks, and grade two thigh strains for about 4 to 6 weeks. In the case of a complete rupture the thigh muscle will have to be repaired surgically and the rehabilitation afterwards will take about 3 months.
Regardless of the severity of the thigh injury, the treatment in the early stages is the same. The thigh should be rested in an elevated position, with an ice pack applied for twenty minutes every two hours, and a compression bandage applied. This should help to limit bleeding and swelling in the tissues. After the early days have been spent resting more active rehabilitation can be started. Compression shorts can also be used to help support the affected area.
Gentle resistance exercises and thigh stretching are important as they help to align the scar tissue that forms during the healing process. By aligning the scar tissue along the normal lines of stress the tensile strength of the thigh muscle is enhanced.
At first gentle resistance is provided by a therapist, but as the thigh muscle gets stronger then resistance bands can provide more of a challenge. The sets and repetitions are gradually increased and eventually core strengthening can be started.
Core Strength and stability exercises can improve muscle function across the trunk and pelvis and this can reduce the risk of hamstring and thigh injury. Core strength exercises on a gym mat using an exercise ball and resistance bands are ideal. Once core strength and hamstring strength are improved, then a return to functional activity is possible.
With a grade one hamstring strain gentle jogging can be initiated between seven and nine days after injury and straight line sprinting is usually started after 3 weeks. Many people find that compression garments or a thigh support provide reassurance during this active rehabilitation.
The muscle should be at full strength and pain-free before you return to sports. This will help prevent additional injury. As a general rule, grade one thigh muscle strains should be rested from sporting activity for about 3 weeks, and grade two thigh strains for about 4 to 6 weeks. In the case of a complete rupture the thigh muscle will have to be repaired surgically and the rehabilitation afterwards will take about 3 months.
As the pain and swelling subside, physical therapy will help improve range of motion and strength. Gentle resistance exercises and thigh stretching are important, as they help to align the scar tissue that forms during the healing process and enhance the tensile strength of the thigh muscle.
As the thigh muscles get stronger, core strength and core stability exercises can improve muscle function across the trunk and pelvis and reduce the risk of Hamstring injury. Core strength exercises using a Swiss Ball and Resistance Bands are ideal for a quick return to functional activity.
Preventing Thigh Muscle Strains
Several factors can predispose you to muscle strains, including:
Muscle tightness. Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain. Athletes should follow a year-round program of daily stretching exercises.
Muscle imbalance. Because the quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together, if one is stronger than the other, the weaker muscle can become strained.
Poor conditioning. If your muscles are weak, they are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and are more likely to be injured.
Muscle fatigue. Fatigue reduces the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.