There are a few common injuries runners often face, but ripping or tearing a muscle often isn’t one of them for the average recreational runner. But it’s still possible to pull or strain muscles while stretching or running. And a pulled quad muscle is one of the more popular ones.
While a pulled quad muscle means staying off it for at least a week in less severe cases, more serious cases require medical attention.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your medical provider with questions or concerns before implementing any recommendations or suggestions from this website.
What Is It
A quadriceps strain happens when you overstretch or pull, the quadriceps muscle. It happens when a motion overpowers the strength of the muscle fibers as a result of muscle fatigue, tightness, or imbalance.
This often happens when sprinting or kicking. That means it commonly occurs when running, playing football, soccer, or baseball, but can also happen from a sudden twist. Some causes for a pulled quad is not properly warming up, or suffering from fatigue.
Where Is It
To understand this injury, it’s important to focus a bit on anatomy. The quadriceps muscle is located in the front of the thigh, above the leg. It consists of four muscles, the rectus femurs, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis, and vastus medialis.
These muscles connect to the knee. The role of the quadriceps is to extend the leg, straighten and bend the knee. For runners, it helps to move the leg forward. These muscles also bend the hip and help to absorb some of the impacts when landing on your feet.
The rectus femoris is often the muscle that is strained because it crosses over the knee and hip joint.
What It Feels Like
Athletes often say that a pulled or strain quad feels like there is a pulling sensation above the knee in the front of the thigh. How painful depends on how bad the injury is.
To determine the severity of a pulled quad, this injury is broken into three categories:
Grade 1: Slight discomfort, mild twinge, or spasm. This feels more like tightness and is just.a minor strain or micro tear.
Grade 2: Moderate discomfort of pain and swelling. Often it’s a sharp and sudden pain that stops you in your tracks. This is generally a partial tear and can impact mobility.
Grade 3: Severe pain. The athlete is unable to walk. This is a complete rupture and requires surgery.
For most, the injury will be Grade 1 or 2. It can feel just a bit sore or tender in the front of the leg. There can also be bruising and swelling. For slightly worse cases this should mean pain when pressing on the thigh as well as having a hard time walking or bending the knee.
What To Do
Remember to always consult with a medical professional if in pain. A physical exam plus further testing like an MRI might be needed to diagnose and further treat the injury.
However, less severe stains can be treated at home. It’s best to immediately get off your feet, elevate and ice your leg. Continue to ice the thigh for 15-minutes at a time throughout the day for a span of 72-hours.
Give it at least three days before attempting a run or doing strenuous lower body activities like squats or lunges.
Use a compression sleeve or thigh brace and make sure to keep it elevated as much as possible. Then return to activity slowly and gradually.
It may take up to a week for minor strains to heal. Those more serious injuries can take upwards of a few weeks, which is why it is important to seek medical attention in those cases.